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EKASMUS DAEWIN 



By ERNST KRAUSE. 



TRANSLATED FROM lEE GERMAN BY W. S. DALLAS. 



WITH A PRELIMINARY NOTICE 



By CHARLES DARWIN. 



PORTRAIT AND WOODCUTS. 



NEW YORK: 
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, 

1, 3, AND 5 BOND STREET. 

18S0. 



PREFACE. 



-•c*- 



In the February number, 1879, of a well- 
known German scientific journal, * Kosmos,' 
Dr. Ernst Krause published a sketch of the life 
of Erasmus Darwin, the author of the * Zoo- 
nomia,' * Botanic Garden,' and other works. 
This article bears the title of a * Contribution 
to the history of the Descent-Theory ; ' and 
Dr. Krause has kindly allowed my brother 
Erasmus and myself to have a translation 
made of it for publication in this country.* 

As I have private materials for adding to 
the knowledge of Erasmus Darwin's character, 
I have written a preliminary notice. These 
materials consist of a large collection of letters 
written by him ; of his common-place book 
in folio, in the possession of his grandson 
Reginald Darwin ; of some notes made shortly 

* Mr. Dallas has undertaken the translation, and his scientific 
reputation, together with his knowledge of German, is a 
guarantee for its accuracy. 



IV PREFACE. 

after his death, by my father, Dr. Eobert 
Darwin, together with what little I can 
clearly remember that my father said about 
him ; also some statements by his daughter, 
Yioletta Darwin, afterwards Mrs. Tertius 
G-alton, written down at the time by her 
daughters; and various short published notices. 
To these must be added the ' Memoirs of the 
Life of Dr. Darwin,' by Miss Seward, which 
appeared in 1804; and a lecture by Dr. Dowson 
on '' Erasmus Darwin, Philosopher, Poet, 
and Physician," published in 1861, which 
contains many useful references and remarks.* 

* Since the publication of Di-. Krause's article, Mr. Butler's 
work, * Evolution, Old and New, 1879,' has appeared, and this 
includes an account of Dr. Darwin's life, compiled frofn the two 
hooks just mentioned, and of his views on evolution. 



PKELIMINARY NOTICE. 



Erasmus Darwin was descended from a 
Lincolnshire family, and the first of his 
ancestors of whom we know anything was 
William Darwin, who possessed a small estate 
at Cleatham.* He was also yeoman of the 
armoury of Greenwich to James I. and 
Charles I. This office was probably almost a 
sinecure, and certainly of very small value. 
He died in 1644, and we have reason to 
believe from gout. It is, therefore, probable 
that Erasmus, as well as many other members 
of the family, inherited from this William, or 
some of his predecessors, their strong ten- 
dency to gout ; and it was an early attack 
of gout which made Erasmus a vehement 
advocate for temperance throughout his whole 
life. 

* The greater part of the estate of Cleatham was sold in 17 GO. 
A cottage with thick walls, some fish-ponds and old trees, alone 
show where the "Old Hall" once stood. A field is still called 
the " Darwin Charity," from being subject to a charge, made by 
the second Mrs. Darwin, for buying gowns for four old widows 
every year. 



2 LIFE OF 

The second William Darwin (born 1620) 
served as Captain-Lieutenant in Sir W. 
Pelham's troop of horse, and fought for the 
king. His estate was sequestrated by the 
Parliament, but he was afterwards pardoned 
on payment of a heavy fine. In a petition 
to Charles II. he speaks of his almost utter 
ruin from having adhered to the royal cause, 
and it appears that he had become a barrister. 
This circumstance probably led to his marry- 
ing the daughter of Erasmus Earle, Serjeant- 
at-law; and hence Erasmus Darwin derived 
his Christian name. 

The eldest son from this marriage, William 
(born 1655), married the heiress of Robert 
Waring, of Wilsford, in the county of Not- 
tingham. This lady also inherited the manor 
of Elston, which has remained ever since in 
the family. 

This third William Darwin had two sons 
— William, and Robert who was educated 
as a barrister, and who was the father of 
Erasmus. I suppose that the Cleatham and 
the Waring properties were left to William, 
who seems to have followed no profession, 
and the Elston estate to Robert; for when 



ERASMUS DARWiy. 




4 LIFE OF 

the latter married, he gave up his profession 
and lived ever afterwards at Elston. There is 
a portrait of him at Elston Hall, and he looks? 
with his great wig and bands, like a dignified 
doctor of divinity. He seems to have had some 
taste for science, for he was an early member 
of the well-known Spalding Club ; and the 
celebrated antiquary, Dr. Stukeley, in ' An 
account of the almost entire Sceleton of a large 
animal,' &c., published in the 'Philosophical 
Transactions,' April and May 1719, begins 
his paper as follows : — " Having an account 
" from my friend, Robert Darwin, Esq., of 
" Lincoln's Inn, a Person of Curiosity, of a 
" human Sceleton impressed in Stone, found 
" lately by the Rector of Elston," &c. Stukeley 
then speaks of it as a great rarity, " the like 
" whereof has not been observed before in this 
" island, to my knowledge." Judging from 
a sort of litany written by Robert, and handed 
down in the family, he was a strong advocate 
of temperance, which his son ever afterwards 
so strongly advocated : — 

From a morning that doth shine. 
From a boy that drinketh wine. 
From a wife that talketh Latine, 
Good Lord deliver me. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 5 

It is suspected that the third line may be 
accounted for by his wife, the mother of 
Erasmus, having been a very learned lady. 

The eldest son of Robert, christened Robert 
Waring, succeeded to the estate of Elston, and 
died there at the age of ninety-two, a bachelor. 
He had a strong taste for poetry, like his 
youngest brother Erasmus. Robert also culti- 
vated botany, and when an oldish man, he 
published his ' Principia Botanica.' This 
book in MS. was beautifully written, and my 
father declared that he believed it was pub- 
lished because his old uncle could not endure 
that such fine calligraphy should be wasted. 
But this was hardly just, as the work con- 
tains many curious notes on biology — a sub- 
ject wholly neglected in England in the last 
century. The public^, moreover, aj^preciated 
the book, as the coj^y in my possession is the 
third edition. 

Of the second son, William Alvey, 1 know 
nothing. A third son, John, became the rector 
of Elston, the living being in the gift of the 
family. The fourth son, and the youngest 
of the children, was Erasmus, the subject of 
the present memoir, who was born on the 
12th Dec. 1Y31, at Elston Hall. 



6 LIFE OP 

His elder brother, Robert, states, in a letter 
to my father (May 19, 1802), that Erasmus 
"was always fond of poetry. He was also 
" always fond of mechanicks. I remember 
" him when very young making an ingenious 
'* alarum for his watch (clock ?) ; he used also 
" to show little experiments in electricity 
" with a rude apparatus he then invented 
" with a bottle." The same tastes, therefore, 
appeared very early in life which prevailed 
to the day of his death. " He had always a 
*' dislike to much exercise and rural diver- 
" sions, and it was with great difficulty that 
" we could ever persuade him to accompany 

" US. 

When ten years old (1741), he was sent to 
Chesterfield School, where he remained for 
nine years. His sister, Susannah, wrote to 
him at school in 1748, and I give part of the 
letter as a curiosity. She was then a young 
lady between eighteen and nineteen years 
old. She died unmarried, and her nephew, 
Dr. Robert Darwin (my father), who was 
deeply attached to her, always spoke of her 
as the very pattern of an old lady, so nice 
looking, so gentle, kind, and charitable, and 
passionately fond of flowers. The first part 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 7 

of her letter consists of gossip aud family 
news, and is not worth giving. 

Susannah Darwin to Erasmus. 

Dear Brother, 

I come now to y® chief design of my Letter, and 
that is to acquaint you with my Ahstinence this Leut, 
which you will find on y® other side, it being a strict 
account of y® first 5 days, and all y® rest has been 
conformable thereto ; I shall be glad to hear from 
you w*^ an account of your temperance this lent, 
w^*^ I expect far exceeds mine. As soon as we kill 
our hog I intend to take part thereof with y® Family, 
for I'm informed by a learned Divine y*^ Hogs Flesh 
is Fish, and has been so ever since y® Devil entered 
into y™ and they ran into y® Sea ; if you and the rest 
of the Casuists in your neighbourhood are of y*^ 
same oppinion, it will be a greater satisfaction to 
me, in resolving so knotty a point of Conscience. 
This being all at present 1 conclude with all our 
dues to you and Bro"^. 

Your afiectionate sister, 

S. Darwin. 

A Diary in Lent. 

Elston, Fth. 20, 1748. 
Feb^y 8 Wednesday Morning a little before 
seven 1 got up ; said my Prayers ; worked till eight ; 



8 LIFE OF 

y° took a walk, came in again and eate a farthing 
Loaf, y° dress'd me, red a Chapter in y® Bible, and 
spun till One, y° dined temperately viz : on Puddin, 
Bread and Cheese ; spun again till Fore, took a walk, 
y° spun till half an hour past Five ; eat an Apple, 
Chattered round y® Fire ; and at Seven a little boyl'd 
Milk; and y° (takeing my leave of Cards y® night 
before) spun till nine ; drank a Glass of Wine for y® 
Stomack sake ; and at Ten retired into my Chamber 
to Prayers ; drew up my Clock and set my Larum 
betwixt Six and Seven. 

Thursday call'd up to Prayers, by my Larum.; 
spun till Eight, collected y® Hens' Eggs ; breakfasted 
on Oat Cake, and Balm Tea ; y° dress'd and spun till 
One, Pease Porrage, Pottatoes and Apple Pye ; y^ 
turned over a few pages in Scribelerus ; eat an Apple 
and got to my work ; at Seven got Apple Pye and 
Milk, half an hour after eight red in y*" Tatlar and 
at Ten withdrew to Prayers ; slept sound ; rose 
before Seven ; eat a Pear ; breakfast a quarter past 
Eight ; fed y® Cats, went to Church ; at One Pease 
Porrage, Puddin, Bread and Cheese ; Fore Mrs. Chap- 
pells came, Five drank Tea ; Six eat half an Apple ; 
Seven a Porrenge of Boyl'd Milk ; red in y^ Tatlar ; 
at Eight a Glass of Punch ; filled up ye vacancies of 
y® day with woik as before. 

Saturday Clock being too slow lay rather longar 
y" usal ; said my Prayers ; and breakfasted at 
Eight ; at One broth, Pudding, Brocoli and Eggs, and 



ERASiMUS DARWIN^. 9 

Apple Pye ; at Five an Apple ; seven Aj^ple Pye, 
Bread and Batter; at Nine a Glass of Wine ; at Ten 
Prayers. 

Sunday breakfast at Eight; at Ten went to y* 
Chappell; 12 Dumplin, red Herring, Bread and 
Cheese ; two to y® Church ; read a Lent Sermon at 
Six ; and at Seven Appel Pye Bread and Cheese. 

Excuse hast, being very cold. 

Erasmus, ^tat. 16, to Susannah Darwin. 

Dear Sister, 

I received yours about a fortnight after y^ date 
y' I must begg to be excused for not answering it 
sooner : besides I have some substantial Reasons, as 
having a mind to see Lent almost expired, before I 
would vouch for my Abstinence throughout y° 
whole: and not having had a convenient oppertunity 
to consult a Synod of my learned friends about your 
ingenious Conscience, and I must inform you we 
unanimously agree in y® Opinion of y^ Learned 
Divine you mention, that Swine may indeed be fish 
but then they are a devillish sort of fish ; and we can 
prove from y® same Authority that all fish is flesh 
whence we affirm Povck not only to be flesh but a 
devillish Sort of flesh; and I would advise yuu for 
Conscience sake altogether to abstain from tasting it ; 
as I can assure You I have done, tlio' roast Pork has 
come to Table several Times ; and for my own part 



10 LIFE OF 

have lived upon Fading, milk, and vegetables all this 
Lent ; but don't mistake me, I don't mean I have 
not touch'd roast beef, mutton, veal, goose, fowl, &c, 
for what are all these ? All flesh is grass ! Was I 
to give you .a journal of a Week, it would be stuft so 
full of Greek and Latin as translation Verses, themes^ 
annotation Exercise and y® like, it would not only be 
very tedious and insipid but perfectly unintelligible 
to any but Scholboys. 

I fancy you forgot in Yours to inform me y** 
your Cheek was quite settled by your Temperance, 
but however I can easily suppose it. For y® tempe- 
rate enjoy an ever-blooming Health free from all y® 
Infections and disorders luxurious mortals are subject 
to, the whimsical Tribe of Phisitians cheated of their 
fees may sit down in penury and Want, they may 
curse mankind and imprecate the Gods and call down 
y* parent of all Deseases, luxury, to infest Mankind, 
luxury more distructive than y® Sharpest Famine ; 
tho' all the Distempers that ever Satan inflicted upon 
Job hover over y® intemperate ; they would play 
harmless round our Heads, nor dare to touch a single 
Hair. We should not meet those pale thin and 
haggard countenances which every day present them- 
selves to us. No doubt men would still live their 
Hunderd, and Methusalem would lose his Character ; 
fever banished from our Streets, limping Gout would 
fly y® land, and Sedentary Stone would vanish into 
oblivion and death himself be slain. 



ERASMUS DARWI.^. 11 

I could for ever rail against Luxury, and for ever 
panegyrize upon abstinence, had I not already en- 
croach'd too far upon your Patience, but it being Lent 
tbe exercise of y* Christian virtue may not be amiss, 
so I shall proceed a little furder — 

[The remainder of the letter is hardly legible 
or intelligible, with no signature.] 

P.S. — Excuse Hast, supper being called, very 
Hungry. 

Judging from two letters — the first written 
in 1749, to one of the under-masters during 
the holidays, and the other to the head- 
master, shortly after he went to Cambridge, 
in 1750 — he seems to have felt a degree 
of respect, gratitude, and affection for tlie 
several masters unusual in a schoolboy. Both 
these letters were accompanied by an inevit- 
able copy of verses, those addressed to the 
head-master being of considerable length, and 
in imitation of the 5th Satire of Persius. 
His two elder brothers accompanied him to 
St. John's College, Cambridge ; and this 
seems to have been a severe strain on their 
father's income. They appear, in consequence, 
to have been thrifty and honourably economi- 



12 LIFE OP 

cal ; so much so that they mended their own 
clothes ; and, many years afterwards, Erasmus 
boasted to his second wife that, if she cut the 
heel out of a stocking, he would put a new one 
in without missing a stitch. He won the 
Exeter Scholarship at St. John's, which was 
worth only £16 per annum. No doubt he 
studied the classics whilst at Cambridge, 
for he did so to the end of his life, as shown 
by the many quotations in his latest work, 
' The Temple of Nature.' He must also have 
studied mathematics to a certain extent, for, 
when he took his Bachelor of Arts degree, in 
1754, he was at the head of the Junior Optimes. 
Nor did he neglect medicine ; and he left 
Cambridge during one term to attend Hunter's 
lectures in London. As a matter of course, 
he wrote poetry whilst at Cambridge, and a 
poem on ' The Death of Prince Frederick,' in 
1751, was published many years afterwards, in 
1795, in the European Magazine. 

In the autumn of 1754 he went to Edin- 
burgh to study medicine, and while there, 
seems to have been as rigidly economical as at 
Cambridge ; for amongst his papers there is a 
receipt for his board from July 13th to October 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 13 

13th, amounting to only £6 125. Mr. Kelr, 
afterwards a distinguished chemist, was at 
Edinburgh with him, and after his death wrote 
to my father (May 12th, 1802) : " The classical 
and literary attainments which he had ac- 
quired at Cambridge gave him, when he 
came to Edinburgh, together with his poeti- 
cal talents and ready wit, a distinguished 
superiority among the students there. 
Every one of the above-mentioned Pro- 
fessors [whose lectures he attended], except- 
ing Dr. Whytt, had been a pupil of the 
celebrated Boerhaave, whose doctrines were 
implicitly adopted. It would be curious to 
know (but he alone could have told us) the 
progress of your father's mind from the 
narrow Boerhaavian system, in which man 
was considered as an hydraulic machine 
whose jDipes were filled with fluid suscep- 
tible of chemical fermentations, while the 
pipes themselves were liable to stoppages 
or obstructions (to which obstructions and 
fermentations all diseases were imputed), 
to the more enlarged consideration of man 
as a living heing^ which affects the phenomena 
of health and disease more than his merely 



14 LIFE OF 

" mechanical and chemical properties. It is 
" true that about the same time, Dr. CuUen 
" and other physicians began to throw off the 
" Boerhaavian yoke; but from the minute 
" observation which Dr. Darwin has given 
" of the laws of association, habits and phe- 
" nomena of animal life, it is manifest that his 
" system is the result of the operation of his 

" own mind.'* 

* 

The only other record of his life in Edin- 
burgh which I possess is a letter to his friend 
Dr. Okes, of Exeter,* written shortly after 
the death of his father (1754), when he was 
twenty- three years old. It shows his sceptical 
frame of mind whilst he was quite a young 
man. 

Erasmus Darwin to Dr. Okes. 

"Yesterday's post brought me the disagreeable 
news of my father's departure out of this sinful 
world. 

" He was a man of more sense than learning ; of 
very great industry in the law, even after he had no 
business, nor expectation of any. He was frugal, 
but not covetous ; very tender to his children, but 

* Published by one of his descendants in the * Gentleman's 
Magazine,' Oct. 1808, vol. Ixxviii. pt. ii. p. 869. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 15 

still kept them at an awful kind of distance. He 
passed through this life with honesty and industry, 
and brought up seven healthy children to follow his 
example. 

"He was 72 years old, and died the 20th 
of this current November 1754. ' Blessed are they 
that die in the Lord.' 

*' That there exists a superior Ens Entium, which 
formed these wonderful creatures, is a mathematical 
demonstration. That He influences things by a par- 
ticular providence, is not so evident. The proba- 
bility, according to my notion, is against it, since 
general laws seem sufiScient for that end. Shall we 
say no particular providence is necessary to roll this 
Planet round the Sun, and yet affirm it necessary 
in turning up cinque and quatorze, while shaking a 
box of dies ? or giving each his daily bread ? The 
light of Nature affords us not a single argument for 
a future state ; this is the only one, that it is possible 
with God, since He who made us out of nothing can 
surely re-create us ; and that He will do this is what 
we humbly hope. Hike the Duke of Buckingham's 
epitaph — *Pro Eege ssepe, pro Eepublica semper, 
dubius, non improbus vixi ; incertus, sed inturbatus 
morior. Christum advenero, Deo confido benevolenti 
et omnipotenti. Ens Entium miserere mei I' 

'' Erasmus Darwin." 

The expression " disag-reeable news," ap- 



16 LIFE OF 

plied to his father's death, sounds very odd 
to our ears, but he evidently used this word 
where we should say "painful." For, in a 
feeling letter to Josiah Wedgwood, the famous 
potter, written a quarter of a century after- 
wards (Nov. 29tb, 1780), about the death of 
their common friend Bentley, in which he 
alludes to the death of his own son, he says 
nothing but exertion will dispossess " the 
" disagreeable ideas of our loss." 

In 1755 he returned to Cambridge, and 
took his Bachelor of Medicine degree. He 
then again went to Edinburgh, and early in 
Sept. 1756, settled as a physician in Nottiug- 
ham. Here, however, he remained for only 
two or three months, as he got no patients. 
Whilst in Nottingham he wrote several 
letters, some in Latin and some in English, 
to bis friend, the son of the famous German 
philosopher, Reimarus.* Mechanics and me- 
dicine were the bonds of union between them. 
Erasmus also dedicated a poem to young 
Reimarus, on his taking bis degree at Leyden 

* I am much indebted to a son of Dr. Sieveking, who brought 
to England the original letters preserved by the descendants of 
Reimarus, for permitting me to have them photographed. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 17 

in 1754. Various subjects were discussed 
between them, including tlie wildest specula- 
tions by Erasmus on the resemblance between 
the action of the human soul and that of elec- 
tricity, but the letters are not worth pub- 
lishing. In one of them he says : *' I believe 
" I forgot to tell how Dr. Hill makes his 
" * Herbal ' (a formerly well-known book). 
" He has got some wooden plates from some 
" old herbal, and the man that cleans them 
" cuts out one branch of every one of them, 
" or adds one branch or leaf, to disguise 
" them. This I have from my friend Mr. 

" G y, watch-maker, to whom this priiit- 

" mender told it, adding, ' I make plants now 
" every day that God never dreamt of.' " It 
also appears from one of his letters to 
Reimarus, that Erasmus corresponded at this 
time about short-hand writing with Guvney, 
the author of a well-known book on this 
subject. Whilst still young he filled six 
volumes with short-hand notes, and continued 
to make use of the art for some time. 

Several of the letters to Reimarus relate to 
a case in which Dr. Darwin appears to have 
been much interested. He sent or helped to 



18 LIFE OP 

send a working man to a London surgeon, 
Mr. D., for a serious operation. Reimarus 
and Dr. Darwin appear to have had some 
misunderstanding with the surgeon, expect- 
ing that he would perform the operation 
gratuitously. Dr. Darwin writes to Reimarus : 
"I am very sorry to hear that D. took six 
" guineas from the poor young man. He 
" has nothing but what hard labour gives 
" him ; is much distressed by this thing 
" costing him near £30 in all, since the 
" house where he lay cheated him much. 
"... When he returns I shall send 
" him two guineas. I beg you would not 
" mention to my brother that I send this 
" to him." Why his brother should not be 
told of this act of charity it is difficult to 
conjecture. From two other letters it appears 
that Dr. Darwin wrote anonymously to his 
friend the surgeon, complaining of his charge ; 
and that when suspected of this discreditable 
act he did not own the authorship of the 
letter. He wrote to Reimarus (Nottingham 
Sept. 9th, 1756): "You say I am suspected 
" to be the Author of it (i.e, the anonymous 
" letter), and next to me some malicious per- 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 19 

son somewhere else, and that I am desired 
as I am a gentleman to declare concerning 
it. First, then, as I am upon Honour, I 
must not conceal that I am glad there are 
Persons wlio will revenge Faults the Law 
can not take hold off: and 1 hope Mr. D. 
will not be affronted at this Declaration ; 
since you say he did not know the Distress 
of the Man. Secondly, as another Person 
is suspected, I will not say whether I am 
the Author or not, since I don't think the 
Author merits Punishment, for informing 
Mr. D. of a Mistake. You call the Letter 
a threatening Letter, and afterwards say 
the Author pretends to be a Friend to 
Mr. D. This, though you give me several 
particulars of it, is a Contradiction I don't 
understand." In a P.S. he adds that Rei- 
marus might show the letter to Mr. D. The 
anonymous letter answered its purpose, for 
the surgeon returned four guineas, and Dr. 
Darwin thought it probable that he would 
ultimately return the other two guineas. 

In November 1756, Erasmus settled in 
Lichfield, and now his life may be said to 



20 LIFE OF 

have begun in earnest ; for it was here, and 
in or near Derby, to which place he removed 
in 1781, that he published all his works. 
Owing to two or three very successful cases, 
he soon got into some practice at Lichfield as 
a physician, when twenty-five years old. A 
year afterwards (Dec. 1757) he married Miss 
Mary Howard, aged 17-18 years, who, judging 
from all that I have heard of her, and from 
some of her letters, must have been a superior 
and charming woman. She died after a long 
and suffering illness in 1770. They seem to 
have lived together most happily during the 
thirteen years of their married life, and she 
was tenderly nursed by her husband during her 
last illness. Miss Seward gives,* on second- 
hand authority, a long speech of hers, ending 
with the words, " he has prolonged my days, 
" and he has blessed them." This is probably 
true, but everything which Mss Seward says 
must be received with caution; and it is 
scarcely possible that a speech of such 
length could have been reported with any 
accuracy. 

The following letter was written by 

* * Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin,' 180i, pp. 11-14. 



ERASMUS DARWINT. 21 

Erasmus four days before Lis marriage with 
Miss Howard. 



Erasmus Darwin to Mary Howard. 

Dear Polly, Darlaston, Dec 24, 1757. 

As I was turning over some old mouldy 
volumes, that were laid upon a Shelf in a Closet of 
my Bed-chamber; one I found, after blowing the 
Dust from it with a Pair of Bellows, to be a Receipt 
Book, formerly, no doubt, belonging to some good 
old Lady of the Family. The Title Page (so much 
of it as the Rats had left) told us it was " a Bouk off 
verry monny muckle vallyed Receipts bouth in 
Kookery and Physicks." Upon one Page was " To 
make Pye-Crust," — in another " To make Wall- 
Crust,"— " To make Tarts,"— and at length "To 
make Love." "This Receipt," says I, "must be 
curious, I'll send it to Miss Howard next Post, let 
the way of making it be what it will." — Thus it is 
" To make Love. Take of Sweet- William and of 
Rose-Mary, of each as much as is sufficient. To tho 
former of these add of Honesty and Herb-of-grace ; 
and to the latter of Eye-bright and Motherwort of 
each a large handful : mix them separately, and 
then, chopping them altogether, add one Plumb, 
two sprigs of Heart's Ease and a little Tyme. And 
it makes a most excellent dish, probatum est. Some 
put in Rue, and Cuckold-Pint, and Heart-Chokes, 



22 LIFE OF 

and Cbxcome, and Yiolents; But these spoil the 
flavour of it entirely, and I even disprove of Sallery 
which some good Cooks order to be mix'd with it. I 
have frequently seen it toss'd up with all these at the 
Tables of the Great, where no Body would eat of it, 
the very appearance was so disagreable." 

Then follow'd " Another Eeceipt to make Love," 
which began " Take two Sheep's Hearts, pierce them 
many times through \\ith a Scewer to make them 
Tender, lay them upon a quick Fire, and then taking 

one Handful " here Time with his long Teeth 

had gnattered away the remainder of this Leaf. At 
the Top of the next Page, begins "To make an 
honest Man." *' This is no new dish to me," says 1, 
*' besides it is now quite old Fashioned ; I won't read 
it." Then follow'd '* To make a good Wife." 
** Pshaw," continued I, " an acquaintance of mine, a 
young Lady of Lichfield, knows how to make tliis 
Dish better than any other Person in the World, and 
she has promised to treat me with it sometime," and 
thus in a Pett threw doun the Book, and would not 
read any more at that Time. If I should open it 
again tomorrow, whatever curious and useful receipts 
I shall meet with, my dear Polly may expect an 
account of them in another Letter. 

I have the Pleasure of your last Letter, am glad 
to hear thy cold is gone, but do not see why it 
should keep you from the concert, because it was 
gone. We drink your Health every day here, by 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 23 

the Name of Dulcinea del Toboso, and I told Mrs. 
Jervis and Miss Jervis that we were to have been 
married yesterday, about which they teased mo all- 
the Evening. I heard nothing of Miss Fletcher's 
Fever before. I will certainly be with Thee on 
Wednesday evening, the Writings are at my Huuse, 
and may be dispatched that night, and if a License 
takes up any Time (for I know nothing at all about 
these Things) I should be glad if Mr. Howard would 
order one, and by this means, dear Polly, we may 
have the Ceremony over next morning at eight 
o'clock, before any Body in Lichfield can know 
almost of my being come Home. If a License is to 
be had the Day before, I could wish it may be put 
off till late in the Evening, as the Voice of Fame 
makes such quick Dispatch with any News in so 
small a Place as Lichfield. — I think this is much 
the best scheme, for to stay a few Days after my 
Return could serve no Purpose, it would only make 
us more watch'd and teazed by the Eye and Tongue 
of Impertinence. — I shall by this Post apprize my 
Sister to be ready, and have the House clean, and I 
wish you would give her Instructions about any 
trivial affairs, that I cannot recollect, such as a cake 
you mentioned, and tell her the Person of whom, 
and the Time when it must be made, &c. I'll desire 
her to wait upon you for this Purpose. Perhaps 
Miss Nelly White need not know the precise Time 
till the Night before, but this as you please, as 
I (illegible). You could rely upon her Secrecy, and 



24 LIFE OP 

it's a Trifle, if any Body should know. Matrimony, 
my dear Girl, is undoubtedly a serious affair, (if any 
Thing be such) because it is an affair for Life : But, 
as we have deliberately determin'd, do not let us be 
frighted about this Change of Life ; or however, not 
let any breathing Creature perceive that we have 
either Fears or Pleasures upon this Occasion : as I 
am certainly convinced, that the best of Confidants 
(tho' experienced on a thousand other Occasions) 
could as easily hold a burning cinder in their Mouth 
as anything the least ridiculous about a new married 
couple ! 1 have ordered the Writings to be sent to 
Mr. Howard that he may peruse and fill up the 
blanks at his Leizure, as it wilt (I foresee) be dark 
night before I get to Lichfield on WedDesday. Mrs. 
Jervis and Miss desire their Compl. to you, and often 
say how glad she shall be to see you for a ie^ Days 
at any Time. I shall be glad, Polly, if thou hast 
Time on Sunday night, if thou wilt favour me with 
a few Lines by the return of the Post, to tell me 
how Thou doest, &c. — My Compl. wait on Mr. 
Howard if He be returned. — My Sister will wait 
upon you, and I hope, Polly, Thou wilt make no 
Scruple of giving her Orders about whatever you 
chuse, or think necessary. I told her Nelly White 
is to be Bride-Maid. Happiness attend Thee ! adieu, 
from, my dear Girl, 

thy sincere Friend, 

E. Dakwin. 
P.S. — Nothing aliput death in this Letter, Polly. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 25 

It has been said that he soon got into prac- 
tice at Lichfield, and I have found the fol- 
lowing memorandum of his profits in his own 



handwriting 


> 
• 


- 










The 


: profits of 


my "business amounted 














£ s. 


d. 


From Nov. 


12: 


, 1756 to Jan. 


1, 1757 


18 7 


6 


Jan. 




1757 




1758 


192 10 


6 


)> 




1758 




1759 


305 2 





)) 




1759 




1760 


469 4 





)} 




1760 




1761 


544 2 





}) 




1761 




1762 


669 18 





3) 




1762 




1763 


726 





From Jan 


12: 


, 1763 to Jan. 


1, 1764 


639 13 





>} 




1764 


)i 


1765 


750 13 





}> 




1765 


)) 


1766 


800 1 


4 


» 




1766 


)) 


1767 


748 5 


6 


» 




1767 


)) 


1768 


847 3 





>} 




1768 


)) 


1769 


775 11 





» 




1769 


}} 


1770 


9 

• 




t> 




1770 


)) 


1771 


956 17 


6 


y> 




1771 


}) 


1772 


1064 7 


6 


11 




1772 


jj 


1773 


1025 3 






Later in life he gave up the good habit of 
keeping accurate accounts, for in 1799 he wrote 
to my father that he had been much perplexed 
what return to make to the commissioners 
(of income tax ?), as *' I kept no book, but be- 
" lieved my business to be £1000 a year, and de- 



26 LIFE OF 

" duct £200 for travelling expenses and chaise 
" hire, and £200 for a livery-servant, four 
" horses and a day labourer." Subsequently 
he informed my father that the commissioners 
had accepted this estimate. A century ago 
an income of £1000 would probably be equal 
to one of £2000 at the present time ; but I am 
greatly surprised that his profits were not 
larger. All his friends constantly refer to 
his long and frequent journeys, for his prac- 
tice lay chiefly amongst the upper classes 
of society. When he went to live at the 
Priory, he remarked to my father in a letter 
that Rve or six additional miles would make 
little difference in the fatigue of his journeys. 
In 1781, eleven years after the death of 
his first wife, he married the widow of 
Colonel Chandos Pole, of Radburn Hall. He 
had become acquainted with her in the 
Spring of 1778, when she had come to 
Lichfield in order that he might attend her 
children professionally. It is evident from 
the many MS. verses addressed to her before 
their marriage, that Dr. Darwin was passion- 
ately attached to her, even during the life- 
time of her husband, who died in 1780, 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 27 

These verses are somewhat less artificial than 
liis published ones. On his second marriage 
he left Lichfield, and after living two years 
at Radburn Hall, he removed into the town 
of Derby, and ultimately to Breadsall Priory, 
a few miles from the town, where he died 
in 1802. 

There is little to relate about his life at 
either Lichfield or Derby, and, as I am not 
attempting a connected narrative, I will here 
give such impressions as I have formed of his 
intellect and character, and a few of his letters 
which are either interesting in themselves, or 
which throw light upon what he thought and 
felt. 

His correspondence with many distin- 
guished men was large ; but most of the 
letters which I possess or have seen are unin- 
teresting, and not worth publication. Medi- 
cine and mechanics alone roused him to 
write with any interest. He occasionally 
corresponded with Rousseau, with whom- he 
became acquainted in an odd manner, but 
none of their letters have been preserved. 
Rousseau was living in 1766 at Mr. Daven- 
port's house, Wootton Hall, and used to 



28 LIFE OF 

spend much of his time " in the well-known 
" cave upon the terrace in melancholy con- 
" templation." He disliked being interrupted, 
so Dr. Darwin, who was then a stranger to 
him, sauntered by the cave, and minutely 
examined a plant growing in front of it. This 
drew forth Eousseau, who was interested in 
botany, and they conversed together, and 
afterwards corresponded during several years. 
I find a letter written in February 1767 on 
a singular subject. A gentleman had con- 
sulted him about the body of an infant which 
had apparently been murdered. It was 
believed to be the illegitimate child of a 
lady, and to have been murdered by its 
mother. He kej)t a copy of this letter, 
without any address. Omitting all medical 
details it runs as follows : — 

DeaB Sir, Lichfield, Feb. 7, 1767. 

I am sorry you should think it necessary to 
make any excuse for a Letter I this morning received 
from you. The Cause of Humanity needs no Apology 
to me. 

The Women that have committed this most 
unnatural crime, are real objects of our greatest 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 20 

Pity; theJT education has produced in them po 
much Modesty, or sense of Shame, that this artificial 
Passion overturns the very instincts of Nature ! — 
what Struggles must tliere be in their minds, what 
agonies ! — at a Time when, after the Pains of Par- 
turition, Nature has designed them the sweet Conso- 
lation of giving Suck to a little helpless Babe, that 
depends on them for its hourly existence ! — Hence 
the cause of this most horrid crime is an excess of 
what is really a Virtue, of the Sense of Shame, or 
Modesty. Such is the Condition of human Nature ! 
I have carefully avoided the use of scientific terms 
in this Letter that you may make any use of it you 
may think proper ; and shall only add that I am 
veryly convinced of the Truth of every part of it. 
and am, Dear Sir, 

Your affectionate friend and servant, 

Erasmus Darwin. 

There is, perhaps, no safer test of a man's 
real character than that of his long continued 
friendship with good and able men. Now, 
Mr. Edgeworth, the father of Maria Edge- 
worth, the authoress, asserts,* after mention- 
ing the names of Keir, Day, Small, Bolton, 
Watt, Wedgwood, and Darwin, that *' their 
" mutual intimacy has never been broken 

♦ * Memoirs of B. L. Edgeworth,' 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 181. 



30 LIFE OF 

" except by death." To these names, those 
of Edgeworth himself and of the Galtons 
may be added. The correspondence in my 
possession shows the truth of the above 
assertion. Mr. Day was a most eccentric 
character, whose Hfe has been sketched by 
Miss Seward; he named Erasmus Darwin 
" as one of the three friends from whom he 
" had met with constant kindness ;"* and 
Dr. Darwin, in a letter to my father, says : 
" I much lament the death of Mr. Day. 
" The loss of one's friends is one great evil 
" of growing old. He was dear to me by 
" many names (inultis miki nominihus charics), 
*' as friend, philosopher, scholar, and honest 
*' man. 

I give below two of his letters to Josiah 
Wedgwood. 

Erasmus Darwin to Josiah Wedgwood. 

Dear Wedgwood, Lichfield, Sept. 30, 1772. 

I did not return soon enough out of Derby- 
shire to answer your letter by yesterday's Post. 
Your second letter gave me great consolation about 
Mrs. Wedgewood, but gave me most sincere grief 



* t 



Memoirs of R. L. Edgeworth/ 2nd ed. vol. ii. p. 113. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 31 

about Mr. Brindley, whom I have always esteemed 
to be a great genius, and whose loss is truly a public 
one. I don't believe he has left his equal. I think 
the various Navigations should erect him a monu- 
ment in Westminster Abbey, and hope you will at 
the proper time give them this hint. 

Mr. Stanier sent me no account of him, except of 
his death, though I so much desired it, since if I had 
understood that he got worse, nothing should have 
hindered me from seeing him again. If Mr. Hen- 
shaw took any Journal of his illness or other circum- 
stances after I saw him, I wish you would ash him for 
it and enclose it to me. And any circumstances that 
you recollect of his life should be wrote down, and I 
will some time digest them into an Eulogium. These 
men should not die, this Nature denies, but their 
Memories are above her Malice. Enough I 



Erasmus Darwin to Josiah Wedgwood. 

Deak Sir, Lichfield, Nov. 29, 1780. 

Your letter communicating io me the death of 
your friend, and I beg I may call him mine 3[r. 
Bentley, gives me very great concern ; and a train of 
very melancholy ideas succeeds in my mind, uncon- 
nected indeed with vour loss, but which still at times 
easts a shadow over me, which nothing but exertion 
in business or in acquiring knowle<ige can remove. 



32 LIFE OF 

This exertion I must recommend to you, as it for a 
time dispossesses the disagreeable ideas of our loss ; 
and gradually their impression or effect upon us 
becomes thus weakened, till the traces are scarcely 
perceptible, and a scar only is left, which reminds us 
of the past pain of the united wound. 

Mr. Bentley was possessed of such variety of know- 
ledge, that his loss is a public calamity, as well as 
to his friends, though they must feel it the most 
sensibly ! Pray pass a day or two with me at Lich- 
field, if you can spare the time, at your return. 1 
want much to see you ; and was truly sorry I was 
from home as you went up ; but I do beg you will 
always lodge at my house on your road, as I do at 
yours, whether you meet with me at home or not. 

I have searched in vain in Melmoth's translation 
of Cicero's letters for the famous consolatory letter 
of Sulpicius to Cicero on the loss of his daughter (as 
the work has no index), but have found it, the first 
letter in a small publication called * Letters on the 
most common as well as important occasions in Life:' 
Newberry, St. Paul's, 1758. This letter is a masterly 
piece of oratory indeed, adapted to the man, the time, 
and the occasion. I think it contains everything 
which could be said upon the subject, and if you have 
not seen it I beg you to send for the book. 

For my own part, too sensible of the misfortunes of 
others for my own happiness, and too pertiuacious of 
the remembrance of my own [i.e. the death of his 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 33 

son Charles in 1778], I am rather in a situation to 
demand than to administer consolation. Adieu. God 
bless you, and believe me, dear Sir, your affectionate 

^^^^^^ E. Darwin. 

Ten years later be seems to have doubted 
mucb about tbe consolation to be derived 
from tbe letter of Sulpicius, for be writes 
(1790) toEdgewortb:* 

I much condole with you on your late loss. I 
know how to feel for your misfortune. The little 
Tale you sent is a prodigy, written by so young 
a person, with such elegance of imagination. Nil 
admirari may be a means to escape misery, but not 
to procure happiness. There is not much to be had 
in this world — we expect too much! I have had 
my loss also. The letter of Sulpicius to Cicero is 
fine eloquence, but comes not to the heart ; it tugs, 
but does not draw the arrow. Pains and diseases of 
the mind are only cured by Time. Reason but 
skins the wound, which is perpetually liable to 
fester again. 

Amongst the old letters preserved, \\\erQ 
is one without any date from Huttou, tbe 
founder of tbe modern science of geology, and 
I extract its commencement, as proceeding 
from so illustrious a scientific man. Dr. 

* ' Memoirs,' 2nd ed. 1821, vol. ii. p. 110. 



34 LIFE OF 

Darwin seems to have complained to him of 
having been cheated by some publisher ; and 
Hutton answers : — 

If you have no more money than you use, then be 
as sparing of it as you please, but if you have money 
to spend, then pray learn to let yourself be cheated, 
that is, learn to lay out money for which you 
have no other use. If this be not philosophy, at 
least it is good sense ; for why the devil should a 
man have money to be a plague to him, when it is so 
easy to throw it away ; and if thro' a spirit of general 
benevolence you are afraid of mankind suffering from 
this root of all evil, for God's sake send it to the 
bottom of the sea, it there can only poison fish and 
it will there make in time a noble fossil specimen. 

One of his granddaughters has remarked 
to me, that the term " benevolent " has been 
associated with his name, almost in the same 
manner as that of *^ judicious " with the name 
of the old divine. Hooker. This is perfectly 
true, for I have incessantly met with this 
expression in letters and in the many pub- 
lished notices about him. To the word bene- 
volent, sympathy is generally added, and often 
generosity, as well as hospitality. Mr. Edge- 
worth says : * " I have known him intimately 

* ' Monthly Magazine,' 1802, p. 115. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 35 

*' during thirty-six years, and in that period 
" have witnessed innumerable instances of his 
*' benevolence." 

His life-long friend, Mr. Keir, wrote to ray 
father (May 12th, 1802) about his character 
as follows : " I think all those who knew 
" him, will allow that sympathy and be- 
" nevolence were the most striking features. 
*' He felt very sensibly for others, and, from 
" his knowledge of human nature, he entered 
" into their feelings and sufferings in the 
'* different circumstances of their constitution, 
" character, health, sickness, and prejudice. 
" In benevolence, he thought that almost all 
" virtue consisted. He despised the monkish 
" abstinences and the hypocritical pretensions 
*• which so often imjDOse on the world. The 
'* communication of happiness and the relief 
" of misery were by him held as the only 
" standard of moral merit. Tliough he ex- 
*' tended his humanity to every sentient 
" being, it was not like that of some philo- 
'' sophers, so diffused as to be of no effect ; 
'* but his affection was there warmest where 
" it could be of most service to his family 
" and his friends, who will long remember 



36 LIFE OF 

" the constancy of his attachment and his 
'' zeal for their welfare." His neighbour, Sir 
Brooke Boothby, after the loss of his child (to 
whom the beautiful and well-known monu- 
ment in Ashbourne church was erected), in 
an ode addressed to Dr. Darwin, writes in 
strong terms about his sympathy and power 
of consolation. 

But it is fair to state that from my father's 
conversation, I infer that Dr. Darwin had 
acted towards him in his youth rather 
harshly and imperiously, and not always 
justly ; and though in after years he felt the 
greatest interest in his son's success, and 
frequently wrote to him with aflfection, 
in my opinion the early impression on 
my father's mind was never quite obli- 
terated. 

I have heard indirectly (through one of his 
stepsons) that he was not always kind to his 
son Erasmus, being often vexed at his retiring 
nature, and at his not more fully display- 
ing his great talents. On the other hand 
his children by his second marriage seem to 
have entertained the warmest affection for 
him. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 37 

Erasmus Darwin to his son Robert. 

Dear Robert, April 19, 1789. 

I am sorry to hear you say you have many 
enemies, and one enemy often does much harm. 
The best way, when any little slander is told one, is 
never to make any piquant or angry answer ; as the 
person who tells you what another says against you, 
always tells them in return what you say of them. I 
used to make it a rule always to receive all such in- 
formation very coolly, and never to say anything 
biting against them which could go back again ; and 
by these means many who were once adverse to me, 
in time became friendly. Dr. Small always went 
and drank tea with those who he heard had spoken 
against him ; and it is best to show a little attention 
at public assemblies to those who dislike one; and it 
generally conciliates them. 

Ik * ^ * * 

Kobert seems to have consulted his father 
about some young man, whom he w^ished to 
see well started as an apothecary, and received 
the following answer : — 

Erasmus Darwin to his so.v Robert. 

Dear Robert, Derby, Dec. 17, 1790. 

I cannot give any letters of recommendation 
to Lichfield, as I am and have been from Ihlir in- 



38 LIFE OF 

fancy acquainted with, all the apothecaries there; 
and as such letters must be directed to some of their 
patients, they would both feel and resent it. When 
Mr. Mellor went to settle there from Derby I took 
no part about him. As to the prospect of success 
there, if the young man who is now at Edinburgh 
should take a degree (which I suppose is probable), 
he had better not settle in Lichfield. 

I should advise your friend to use at first all 
means to get acquainted with the people of all ranks. 
At first a parcel of blue and red glasses at the windows 
might gain part of the retail business on market 
days, and thus get acquaintance with that class of 
people. I remember Mr. Green, of Lichfield, who is 
now growing very old, once told me his retail busi- 
ness, by means of his show-shop and many-coloured 
window, produced him £100 a year. Secondly, I 
remember a very foolish, garrulous apothecary at 
Cannock, who had great business without any know- 
ledge or even art, except that lie persuaded people 
he kept good drugs; and this he accomplished by 
only one stratagem, and that was by boring every 
person who was so unfortunate as to step into his 
shop with the goodness of his drugs. " Here's a fine 
piece of assafoetida, smell of this valerian, taste this 
album graecum. Dr. Fungus says he never saw such 
a fine piece in his life." Thirdly, dining every 
market day at a farmers' ordinary would bring him 
some Acquaintance, and I don't think a little impedi- 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 39 

ment in his speech would at all injure him, but 
rather the contrary by attracting notice. Fourtlily, 
card assemblies, — I think at Lichfield surgeons are 
not admitted as they are here; — but they are to 
dancing assemblies ; these therefore he should attend. 
Thus have I emptied my quiver of the arts of the 

Pharmacopol. Dr. K d, I think, supported his 

business by perpetual boasting, like a Charlatan ; 
this does for a blackguard character, but ill suits a 
more polished or modest man. 

If the young man has any friends at Shrewsbmy 
who could give him letters of introduction to the 
proctors, this would forward his getting acquaint- 
ance. For all the above purposes some money must 
at first be necessary, as he should appear well ; 
which money cannot be better laid out, as it will 
pay the greatest of all interest by Fettling him 
well for life. Journeymen Apothecaries have not 
greater wages than many servants ; and in this state 
they not only lose time, but are in a manner lowered 
in the estimation of the world, and less likely to 
succeed afterwards. I will certainly send to him, 
when first I go to Lichfield. I do not think his 
impediment of speech will injure him ; I did not find 
it so in respect to myself. If he is not in such 
narrow circumstances but that he can appear well, 
and has the knowledge and sense you believe him 
to have, I dare say he will succeed anywhere. A 
letter of introduction from you to Miss Seward, men- 



40 LIFE OF 

tioning his education, may be of service to him, and 

another from Mr. Howard. Adieu, from, dear 

Eobert, 

Yours most affectionately, 

E. Darwin. 

My father spoke of Dr. Darwin as having 
great jDowers of conversation. Lady Charle- 
ville, who had been accustomed to the most 
brilliant society in London, told him that Dr. 
Darwin was one of the most agreeable men 
whom she had ever met. He himself nsed 
to say " there were two sorts of agreeable 
" persons in conversation parties — agreeable 
" talkers and agreeable listeners." 

He stammered greatly, and it is surprising 
that this defect did not spoil his f)owers 
of conversation. A young man once asked 
him in, as he thought, an offensive manner, 
whether he did not find stammering very 
inconvenient. He answered, "No, Sir, it 
" gives me time for reflection, and saves me 
" from asking impertinent questions." Miss 
Seward speaks of him as being extremely 
sarcastic^ but of this I can find no evidence 
in his letters or elsewhere. It is a pity that 
Dr. Johnson in his visits to Lichfield rarely 



ERASMUS DAR^'IN. 41 

met Dr. Darwin ; but they seem to have 
disliked each other cordially, and to have 
felt that if they met they would have quar- 
relled like two dogs. There can, I suppose, 
be little doubt that Johnson would have come 
off victorious. In a volume of MSS. by 
Dr. Darwin, in the possession of one of his 
granddaughters, there is the following stanza : 

From Lichfield famed two giant critics come, 
Tremble, ye Poets ! hear them ! " Fe, Fo, Fum !" 
By Seward's arm the mangled Beaumont bled, 
And Johnson grinds poor Shakespear's bones for bread. 

He is evidently alluding to Mr. Seward's 
edition of * Beaumont and Fletcher's Plays,' 
and to Johnson's edition of ' Shakespear ' 
in 1765. 

He possessed, according to my father, great 
facility in explaining any difficult subject ; and 
he himself attributed this power to his habit 
of always talking about whatever he ^^■as 
studying, " turning and moulding the subject 
** according to the capacity of his hearers." 
He compared himself to Gil Bias's uncle, who 
learned the grammar by teaching it to liis 
nephew. 



42 LIFE OF 

When lie wished to make himself disagree- 
able for any good cause, he was well able to 
do so. Lady * * * married a widower, 
and became so jealous of his former wife 
that she cut and spoiled her picture, which 
hung up in one of the rooms. The husband, 
fearing that his young wife was becoming 
insane, was greatly alarmed, and sent for Dr. 
Darwin. When he arrived he told her in 
the plainest manner many unpleasant truths, 
amongst others that the former wife was 
infinitely her superior in every respect, in- 
cluding beauty. The poor lady was aston- 
ished at being thus treated, and could never 
afterwards endure his name. He told the 
husband if she again behaved oddly, to hint 
that he would be sent for. The plan suc- 
ceeded perfectly, and she ever afterwards 
restrained herself. 

My father was much separated from Dr. 
Darwin after early life, so that he remem- 
bered few of his remarks, but he used to 
quote one saying as very true : " that the 
" world was not governed by the clever men, 
" but by the active and energetic." He used 
also to quote another saying, that " common 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 43 

" sense would be improving, when men left 
" off wearing as much flour on tlieir heads 
" as would make a pudding ; when women 
" left off wearing rings in their ears, like 
" savages wear nose rings ; and when fire- 
" grates were no longer made of polished 
" steel." 

Dr. Darwin has been frequently called an 
atheist, whereas in every one of his works 
distinct expressions may be found showing 
that he fully believed in God as the Creator 
of the universe. For instance, in the ' Temple 
of Nature,' published posthumously,* he 
writes : " Perhaps all the productions of 
" nature are in their progress to greater per- 
" fection ! an idea countenanced by modern 
" discoveries and deductions concerning the 
" progressive formation of the solid parts of 
" the terraqueous globe, and consonant io 
" the dignity of the creator of all things." 
He concludes one chapter in ' Zoonomia ' 
with the words of the Psalmist : " The 
" heavens declare the Glory of God, and the 
" firmament sheweth his handiwork'' 

♦ 'Temple of Nature,' 1803, note, p. 54, See also the 
striking foot-note (p. 142) on the immutable properties of 
matter "received from the hand of the Creator," etc. 



44 LIFE OF 

He published an ode on the folly of 
atheism, with the motto " I am fearfully and 
wonderfully made," of which the first verse 
is as follows : — 

1. 

Dull atheist, could a giddy dance 

Of atoms lawless hurl'd 
Construct so wonderful, so wise, 

So harmonised a world ? 

With reference to morality he says : * '' The 
" famous sentence of Socrates, ' Know your- 
" self,' .... however wise it may be, seems 

'' to be rather of a selfish nature 

" But the sacred maxims of the author of 
" Christianity, ' Do as you would be done by,' 
" and * Love your neighbour as yourself,' 
" include all our duties of benevolence and 
" morality ; and, if sincerely obeyed by all 
" nations, would a thousandfold multiply the 
*' present happiness of mankind." 

Although Dr. Darwin was certainly a 
theist in the ordinary acceptation of the 
term, he disbelieved in any revelation. Nor 
did he feel much respect for unitarianism, for 
he used to say that " unitarianism was 



* t 



Temple of Nature,' 1803, note p. 124. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 45 

a feather-bed to catch a falling Chris- 
tian." 

Remembering through what an exciting 
period of history Erasmus lived, it is singular 
how rarely there is more than an allusion in 
his letters to politics. He would now be 
called a liberal, or perhaps rather a radical. 
He seems to have wished for the success of 
the North American colonists in their war 
for independence ; for he writes to Wedgwood 
(Oct. 17, 1782): "I hope Dr. Frankhn will 
" live to see peace, to see America recline 
" under her own vine and fig-tree, turning 
" her swords into plough-shares, &c." Like 
so many other persons, he hailed the begin- 
ning of the French Revolution with joy and 
triumph. Miss Seward, in a letter to Dr. 
Whalley, dated May 18, 1792, says: "I 
" should indeed now begin to fear for France ; 
" but Darwin yet asserts that, in spite of all 
" disasters, the cause of freedom will triumpli, 
** and France become, ere long, an example, 
^* prosperous as great, to the surrounding 
" nations." 

She remarks in another letter, Darwin " was 



8 



46 LIFE OF 

" a far-sighted politician, and foresaw and 
^' foretold the individual and ultimate mis- 
" chief of every pernicious measure of the 
" late Cahinet." * 

In February 1789, he tells Wedgwood that 
he had been reading * Colonel Jack,' by De 
Foe, and suggests that the account there 
given of the generous spirit of black slaves 
should be republished in some journal. 
Again, on April 13th of the same year 
(1789), he writes: "I have just heard that 
" there are muzzles or gags made at Birming- 
" ham for the slaves in our islands. If this 
" be true, and such an instrument could be 
" exhibited by a speaker in the House of 
" Commons, it might have a great effect. 
" Could not one of their long whips or 
" wire tails be also procured and exhibited ? 
" But an instrument of torture of our own 
" manufacture would have a greater effect, 
" I dare say." 

The following lines on Slavery were 
published in Canto III. of the * Loves of 
the Plants,' 1790 :— 

♦ * Journals of Dr. Whalley, 1863, vol. ii. pp. 73, 220-222, 



ERASMUS DARWIN-. 47 

" Throned in the vaulted heart, his dread resort, 
Inexorable Conscience holds his com-t ; 
With still small voice the plots of Guilt alarms. 
Bares his mask'd brow, his lifted hand disarms ; 
But wrapp'd in might with terrors all his own, 
He speaks in thunder, when the deed is done. 
Hear him, ye Senates ! hear this truth sublime. 
He, who allows oppression, shares the crime." 

The date of this poem and of the above 
letter should be noticed, for let it be re- 
membered that even the slave-trade was 
not abolished until 1807; and in 1783 the 
managers of the Society for the Propagation 
of the Gospel absolutely declined, after a 
full discussion, to give Christian instruction 
to their slaves in Barbadoes. * 

He sympathised warmly with Howard's 
noble work of reforming the state of the 
prisons throughout Europe, as his lines in 
the * Loves of the Plants ' (Canto 11.) 
show : — 

" And now. Philanthropy ! thy rays divine . 
Dart round the globe from Zembla to the line ; 
O'er each dark prison plays the cheering light. 
Like noj-thern lustres o'er the vault of night. — 
From realm to realm, with cross or crescent crown 'd, 
Where'er mankind and misery are found, 

♦ Lecky, 'Hist, of England in the Eighteenth Century,' 1878, 
vol. ii. p. 17. 



48 LIFE OF 

O'er burning sands, deep waves, or wilds of snow. 
Thy Howard journeying seeks the house of woe- 
Down many a winding step to dungeons dank, 
Where anguish wails aloud, and fetters clank ; 
To caves bestrew'd with many a mouldering bone, 
And cells, whose echoes only learn to groan ; 
^Tiere no kind bars a whispering friend disclose. 
No sunbeam enters, and no zephyr blows. 
He treads, inemulous of fame or wealth. 
Profuse of toil, and prodigal of health; 
"With soft assuasive eloquence expands 
Power's rigid heart, and opes his clenching hands, 
Leads stern-eyed Justice to the dark domains, 
If not to sever, to relax the chains. 

The spirits of the Good, who bend from high 
Wide o'er these earthly scenes their partial eye. 
When first, arrayed in Virtue's purest robe, 
They saw her Howard traversing the globe ; 
Mistook a mortal for an Angel-Guest, 
And ask'd what Seraph-foot the earth imprest. 
Onward ho moves ! Disease and Death retire. 
And murmuring demons hate him, and admire." 



Judging from his published works, letters, 
and all that I have been able to gather about 
him, the vividness of his imagination seems 
to have been one of his pre-eminent charac- 
teristics. This led to his great originality of 
thought, his prophetic spirit both in science 
and in the mechanical arts, and to his over- 
powering tendency to theorise and generalise. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 49 

Nevertheless, his remarks, hereafter to Ije 
given, on the value of experiments and the 
use of hypotheses show that he had the true 
spirit of a philosopher. That he possessed 
uncommon powers of observation must be 
admitted. The diversity of the subjects to 
which he attended is surprising. But of all 
his characteristics, the incessant activity or 
energy of his mind was, perhaps, the most 
remarkable. Mr. Keir, himself a distin- 
guished man, who had seen much of tlie 
world, and who " had been well acquainted 
*' with Dr. Darwin for nearly half a century," 
after his death wrote (May 12th, 1802) to my 
father : " Your father did indeed retain more 
" of his original character than almost any 
" man I have known, excejDting, perhaps, Mr. 
" Day [author of * Sandford and Merton,' &c.]. 
" Indeed^ the originality of character in botli 
'' these men was too strong to give way to 
" the example of others." He afterwaids 
proceeds : " Your father paid little regard 
to " authority, and he quickly perceived the 
" analogies on which a new theory could be 
" founded. This penetration or sagacity by 
" which he was able to discover very reiiiote 



50 LIFE OF 

" causes and distant effects, was the cliarac- 
" teristic of his understanding. Perhaps it 
" may be thought in some instances to have 
" led him to refine too much, as it is difficult 
" in using a very sharp-pointed instrument 
" to avoid sometimes going rather too deep. 
*^ By this penetrating faculty he was enabled 
'' not only to trace the least conspicuous 
" indications of scientific analogy, but also 
" the most delicate and fugitive beauties of 
" poetic diction. If to this quality you add 
'^ an uncommon activity of mind and facility 
" of exertion, which required the constant 
" exercise of some curious investigation, you 
'^ will have, I believe, his principal features." 
His activity continued to his latest days; 
and the following letter, written when he 
was sixty-one years old to my father, shows 
his continued zeal in his profession. 

Erasmus Darwin to his Son Eobert. 

Dear EoberT, Derby, April 13, 1792. 

I think you and I should sometimes exchange 
a long medical letter, especially when any uncommon 
diseases occur ; both as it improves one in writing 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 51 

clear intelligible English, and preserves instructive 
cases. Sir Joshua Reynolds, in one of his lectures 
on pictorial taste, advised painters, even to extreme 
old age, to study the works of all other artists, both 
ancient and modern; which he says will improve 
their invention, as they will catch collateral ideas 
(as it were) from the pictures of others, which is a 
different thing from imitation ; and adds, that if they 
do not copy others, they will be liable to copy them- 
selves, and introduce into their work the same faces, 
and the same attitudes again and again. Now in 
medicine I am sure unless one reads the work of 
others, one is liable perpetually to copy one*s own 
prescriptions, and methods of treatment; till one's 
whole practice is but an imitation of one's self ; and 
half a score medicines make up one's whole materia 
medica ; and the apothecaries say the doctor has but 
4 or 6 prescriptions to cure all diseases. 

Reasoning thus, I am determined to read all the new 
medical journals which come out, and other medical 
publications, which are not too voluminous ; by which 
one knows what others are doing in the medical world, 
and can astonish apothecaries and surgeons with the 
new and wonderful discoveries of the times. All this 
harangue lately occurred to me on reading the trials 

made by Dr. Crawford. 

« * « « « 

My father seems to have urged him, about 
the year 1793, to leave off professional Avork ; 



52 LIFE OF 

he answered, " it is a dangerous experiment, 
" and generally ends either in drunkenness 
" or hypochrondriacism. Thus I reason, 
" one must do something (so country squires 
" fox-hunt), otherwise one grows weary of 
" life, and becomes a prey to ennui. There- 
" fore one may as well do something advan- 
" tageous to oneself and friends or to mankind, 
" as employ oneself in cards or other things 
" equally insignificant." During his frequent 
and long journeys, he read and wrote much 
in his carriage, which was fitted up for 
the purpose. Nor was travelling an easy 
afTair in those days^ for owing to the state of 
the roads, a carriage could hardly reach some 
of the houses which he had to visit ; and I hear 
from one of his granddaughters that an old 
horse named the " Doctor,'* with a saddle on^ 
used to follow behind the carriage, without 
being in any way fastened to it ; and when 
the road was too bad, he got out and rode 
upon Doctor. This horse lived to a great age, 
and was buried at the Priory. 

When at home he was an early riser; and 
he had his papers so arranged (as I have 
heard from my father) that if he awoke in 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 53 

the night he was able to get np and continue 
his work for a time, until he felt sleepy. 
Considering his indomitable activity, it is a 
singular fact that he suffered much from a 
sense of fatigue. On my once remarking to 
my father, how greatly fatigued he seemed 
to be after his day's work, he answered, "I 
" inherit it from my father." 

In some notes made by my father in 1802, 
he states that Dr. Darwin naturally was of a 
bold disposition, but that a succession of acci- 
dents made a deep impression on his mind, and 
that he became very cautious. When he was 
about G.Ye years old he received an accidental 
blow on the top of his head, sufficiently severe 
to give him a white lock of hair for life. 
Later on, when he was fishing with his 
brothers, they put him into a bag with only 
his feet out, and being thus blinded he walked 
into the river, and was very nearly drowned. 
Again, when he and Lord George Cavendish 
were playing with gunpowder at school , it 
exploded, and he was badly injured ; and 
lastly, he broke his kneeca23. 

Owing to his lameness, he was clumsy in 
his movements, but when young, was a very 



54 LIFE OF 

active man. His frame was large and bulky, 
and he grew corpulent when old. He was 
deeply pitted with the small-pox. 

It is remarkable that in so large a town 
as Derby^ and at so late a period as 1784, 
there was no public institution for the 
relief of the poor in sickness. Dr. Darwin 
therefore at this time drew up a circular, the 
MS. of which is in my possession, stating that 
'' as the small-pox has already made great 
" ravages in Derby, showing much malignity 
" even at its commencement ; and as it is now 
*^ three years since it was last epidemic in this 
" town, there is great reason to fear that it will 
'* become very fatal in the approaching spring, 
" particularly amongst the poor, who want 
" both the knowledge and the assistance neces- 
" sary for the preservation of their children." 
He accordingly proposed that a society should 
be formed — the members to subscribe a guinea 
each, and that a room should be hired as a 
dispensary, where the medical men of the town 
might give their attendance gratuitously. 
The poor were to be directed to take their pre- 
scriptions in due order to all the druggists in 
the town, apparently to disarm opposition. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 55 

The circular then expresses the hope tliat 
the dispensary "may prove the foundation- 
" stone of a future infirmary.'* 

In this same year of 1784 he seems to 
have taken the chief part in founding a 
Philosophical Society in Derby. The mem- 
bers met for the first time at his liouse, and 
he delivered to them a short but striking 
address, from which the following passages 
may be given : " I come now to the second 

* source of our accurate ideas. As we are 
' fashioned and constituted by the niggard 
' hand of Nature with such imperfect and 

* contracted faculties, with so few and such 
' imperfect senses ; while the bodies, which 
' surround us, are indued with infinite variety 
' of properties ; with attractions, repulsions, 
' gravitations, exhalations, jDolarities, minute- 
■• ness, irresistance, &c., which are not cog- 
' nizable by our dull organs of sense, or not 
' adapted to them ; what are we to do ? shall 
' we sit down contented with ignorance, and 
' after we have procured our food, sleep away 
' our time like the inhabitants of the woods 
' and pastures ? No, certainly ! — since there 
' is another way by which we mav indirectly 



56 LIFE OF 

" become acquainted with those properties of 
" bodies, which escape our senses ; and that 
" is by observing and registering their effects upon 
'' each other. This is the tree of knowledge, 
" whose fruit forbidden to the brute creation 
'* has been plucked by the daring hand of 
^^ experimental philosophy. 

He concludes the address with the words : 
" I hope at some distant time, perhaps not 
*"' very distant, by our own publications we 
'' may add something to the common heap 
*^ of knowledge ; which I prophecy will never 
^' cease to accumulate, so long as the human 
'•' footstep is seen upon the earth." 

No man has ever inculcated more persist- 
ently and strongly the evil effects of intemper- 
ance than did Dr. Darwin ; but chiefly on the 
grounds of ill-health, with its inherited conse- 
quences ; and this perhaps is the most practical 
line of attack. It is positively asserted that he 
diminished to a sensible extent the practice of 
drinking amongst the gentry of the county.* 

* The following short history of temperance societies is 
extracted irom Dr. Krause's MS. notes on Dr. Darwin : — 
"The oldest temperance societies were founded in North 
America in 1808 by the efforts of Dr. Hush, and in Great 
Britain in 1829, chiefly at the suggestion of Mr. Dunlop. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 57 

He himself during many years never touclied 
alcohol under any form ; but he was not a 
bigot on the subject, for in old age lie informed 
my father that he had taken to drink daily 
two glasses of home-made wine with advant- 
age. Why he chose home-made wine is not 
obvious ; perhaps he fancied that he thus did 
not depart so widely from his long-continued 
rule. He also wrote (Oct. 15, 1772) to 
Wedgwood, who had feeble health : " I would 
" advise you to live as high as your constitution 
*' will admit of, in respect to both eating and 
'* drinking. This advice could be given to very 
'^ few people ! If you were to weigh yourself 
" once a month you would in a few months 
" learn whether this method was of service to 
" you." His advocacy of the cause is not yet 

See Samuel Couling, ' History of the Temperance Move- 
ment in Great Britain and Ireland, from the earliest date 
to the present time ; ' London, 1862. In Germany, indeed, the 
Archduke Frederick of Austria had founded a temperance order 
as early as 1439, which was followed in 1600 by the temperance 
order established by the Landgrave of Hesse, but these were only 
imitations of the Templars and other orders of knighthood, 
-which sought by vows to suppress the coarse excesses of drinking 
bouts, as is indicated by the motto of the first-mentioned order : 
* Halt Maas ! ' The suggestion of the establishment in Ger- 
many of true temperance societies on the American and English 
model was due to King Frederick William IIL" 



58 LIFE OF 

forgotten, for Dr. Richardson, in his address 
in 1879 to the " British Medical Temperance 
Association," remarks: "the illustrious Hal- 
" ler, Boerhaave, Armstrong, and particularly 
" Erasmus Darwin, were earnest in their sup- 
" port of what we now call the principles of 
" temperance." 

When a young man he was not always 
temperate. Miss Seward relates* a story, 
which would not have been worth notice had 
it not been frequently quoted. My grand- 
father went on a picnic party in Mr. Sneyd's 
boat down the Trent, and after luncheon, when 
(in Miss Sewajrd s elegant language), " if not 
" absolutely intoxicated, his spirits were in a 
" high state of vinous exhilaration," he sud- 
denly got out of the boat, swam ashore in his 
clothes, and " walked coolly over the meadows 
" towards the town" of Nottingham. He 
there met an apothecary, whose remonstrances 
about his wet clothes he answered by saying 
that the unusual internal stimulus would 
" counteract the external cold and moisture ; " 
he then mounted on a tub, and harangued 
the mob in an extremely sensible manner on 

Memoirs of Dr. Darwin/ pp. 64-68. 



* f 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 59 

sanitary arrangements. But it is obvious 
that these harangues must have been largely 
the work of Miss Seward's own imagination. 
There was, however, some truth in this story, 
for his widow, who did not believe a word 
of it, wrote to Mr. Sneyd, whose answer 
lies before me. He admits that something 
^'similar" did hapjDen, but gives no details, 
and advises Mrs. Darwin " to take no notice 
" of this part of her (Miss Seward's) very 
" unguarded and scandalous publication." 
To show what the gentry of the county 
thought of her book at the time, I will add 
that Mr. Sneyd, after alluding in the same 
letter to her account of the death of his son 
Erasmus, remarks : " The authoress deserves 
*^ to be exposed for her want of veracity and 
" every humane feeling." One of Dr. Dar- 
win's stepsons (as I hear from his daughter) 
used always to maintain that this half- tipsy 
freak was due to some of the gentlemen of 
the party, " who were vexed at his temj)e- 
" rate habits," having played him a trick ; 
and this, I presume, means that he was per- 
suaded to drink something as weak which 
was really strong. 



60 LIFE OP 

The following incident related by Mr. 
Edge worth * illustrates the humane side of his 
character. Mr. Edgeworth had corresponded, 
as a stranger, with Dr. Darwin, about the 
construction of carriages, and came to Lich- 
field to see him, but did not find him at 
home. He was asked by Mrs. Darwin to 
stay to supper. " When this was nearly 
finished, a loud rapping at the door an- 
nounced the doctor. There was a bustle 
in the hall, which made Mrs. Darwin get 
up and go to the door. Upon her ex- 
claiming that they were bringing in a dead 
man, I went to the hall. I saw some per- 
sons, directed by one whom I guessed to be 
Doctor Darwin, carrying a man who ap- 
peared motionless. * He is not dead,' said 
Dr. Darwin, 'he is only dead drunk. I 
found him,' continued tho doctor, 'nearly 
suffocated in a ditch ; I had him lifted into 
my carriage, and brought hither, that we 
might take care of him to-night.' " Not 
many men would have done anything so 
disagreeable as to bring home a drunken 
man in their carriage. When a light was 

♦ * Memoirs of R. L. Edgeworth/ 2nd edit. vol. i. p. 158. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 61 

brought, the man was found to be, to the 
astonishment of all present, Mrs. Darwin's 
brother, " who for the first time in his life," 
as Mr. Edge worth was assured, " had been 
" intoxicated in this manner, and who would 
" undoubtedly have perished had it not been 
" for Dr. Darwin's humanity." We must 
remember that in those good old days it was 
not thought much of a disgrace to be very 
drunk. After the man had been put to bed, 
Mr. Edgeworth says that Dr. Darwin and he 
first discussed the construction of carriages 
and then various literary and scientific sub- 
jects, so that "he discovered that I had 
" received the education of a gentleman." 
« Why, I thought," said the doctor, *' that 
" you were only a coachmaker." " That was 
" the reason," said I, *^ that you looked so sur- 
" prised at finding me at supper with Mrs. 
" Darwin. But you see, doctor, how superior 
" in discernment ladies are even to the most 
" learned gentleman." 

He was kind and considerate to his servants, 
as the two following stories show. His son 
Robert owed him a small sum of money, and 
instead of being paid, he asked Robert to buy 



62 LIFE OF 

a goose-pie with it, for which it seems Shrews- 
bury was then famous, and send it at Christ- 
mas to an old woman living in Birmingham, 
" for she, as you may remember, was your 
" nurse, which is the greatest obligation, if 
" well performed, that can be received 
" from an inferior." This was in the year 
1793. 

0;i the day of his death, in the early morn- 
ing, whilst writing a long and affectionate 
letter to Mr. Edge worth, he was seized with a 
violent shivering fit, and went into the kitchen 
to warm himself before the fire. He there saw 
an old and faithful maid servant churning, 
and asked her why she did this on a Sunday 
morning. She answered that she had always 
done so, as he liked to have fresh butter 
every morning. He said : " Yes, I do, but 
" never again churn on a Sunday !" 

That Dr. Darwin was charitable, we may 
believe on Miss Seward's testimony, as it is 
supported by concurrent evidence. After 
saying that he would not take fees from the 
priests and lay-vicars of the Cathedral of Lich- 
field, she adds: "Diligently, also, did he 
" attend to the health of the poor in the city 



ERASMUS DART7IN. C3 

*' and afterwards at Derby, and supplied tlieir 
^' necessities of food, and all sort of charitable 
^' assistance." * Sir Brooke Boothby also, in 
one of his published sonnets, says : — 

If briglit example more than precept sway 
Go, take your lesson from the life of Day, 
Or, Darwin, thine whose ever-open door 
Draws, like Bethesda's pool, the suffering poor 
Where some fit cure the wretched all obtain 
Eelieved at once from poverty and pain. 

The gratitude of the poor to him was shown 
on two occasions in a strange manner.j 
Having to see a patient — one of the Caven- 
dishes — at Newmarket during the races, he 
slept at an hotel, and during the night was 
awakened by the door being gently opened. 
A man came to his bedside and thus spoke 

* * Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin,' 1804, p. 5. 

f These stories appear at first hardly credible, but I have 
traced them, more or less clearly, through four distinct channels 
to my grandfather, whose veracity has never been doubted by 
any one who knew him. The fundamental facts are the same 
with respect to the jocky story, but the accessories difler to an 
extreme degree. With respect to the second story even some of 
the fundamental facts difi"er, and I feel much doubt about it. It 
is quite curious how stories get unintentionally altered in the 
course of years. They were first communicated to rrc by a 
daughter of Yioletta Darwin, who heard her mother relate 
them. 



64 LIFE OF 

to him : '* I heard that you were here, but 
" durst not come to speak to you during the 
" day. I have never forgotten your kind- 
" ness to my mother in her bad illness, but 
" have not been able to show you my grati- 
" tude before. I now tell you to bet largely 
" on a certain horse (naming one), and not 
"on the favourite, whom I am to ride, and 
" who we have settled is not to win." My 
grandfather afterwards saw in the newspaper 
that to the astonishment of everyone^ the 
favourite had not won the race. 

The second story is, that as the doctor was 
riding at night on the road to Nottingham a 
man on horseback passed him, to whom he 
said good night. As the man soon slackened 
his pace, Dr. Darwin was forced to pass him, 
and again spoke, but neither time did the man 
give any answer. A few nights afterwards 
a traveller was robbed at nearly the same 
spot by a man who, from the description, ap- 
peared to be the same. It *is added that my 
grandfather out of curiosity visited the robber 
in prison^ who owned that he had intended 
to rob him, but added : " I thought it was you, 
" and when you spoke 1 was sure of it. You 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 65 

" saved my life many years ago, and nothing 
" could make me rob you."* 

Notwithstanding so much evidence of Dr. 
Darwin's benevolence and generosity, it has 
been represented that he valued money in- 
ordinately, and that he wrote only for gain. 
This is tbe language of a notice published 
shortly after his death,f which also says that 
he was very vain, and that " flattery was 
" found to be the most successful means of 
" gaining his notice and favour." 

All that I have been able to learn goes to 
show that this was a mistaken view of his 
character. 

In a letter to my father, dated Feb. 7, 1792, 
he writes : 

" As to fees, if your business pays you well 
" on the whole, I would not be uneasy about 
" making absolutely the most of it. To live 
" comfortably all one's life, is better than to 
" make a very large fortune towards the end 
"of it." 

In another letter not dated, but written in 

* In one version of this story, the visit of Dr. Darwin to tlio 
man is not mentioned, so that there is then no point to llie story. 

t * Monthly Magazine,' or 'British Register,' vol. xiii. 1802, 
p. 457. 



66 LIFE OF 

1793, he remarks :" There are two kinds of 
" covetousness, one the fear of poverty, the 
"other the desire of gain. The former, I 
" believe, at some times affects all people 
" who live by a profession." Again, his son 
Erasmus, in writing on Nov. 12, 1792, to my 
father, after remarking how rich he was be- 
coming, adds : " I am not afraid of being rich, 
" as our father used to say at Lichfield he 
" was, for fear of growing covetous ; to avoid 
" which misfortune, as you know, he used to 
" dig a certain number of duck puddles 
" every spring, that he might fill them up 
" again in the autumn." How it was possible 
to expend much money in digging duck 
puddles, it is not easy to see. 

It is probable that the only foundation for 
the reviewer's statements, and for others of a 
like kind, was the habit he had — perhaps a 
foolish one — of often speaking about himself 
in a quizzing or bantering tone. Mr. Edge- 
worth, who had known him "intimately 
" during thirty-six year ' in answer to the 
reviewer, writes :* 

"I am most anxious to contradict that 



* ( 



Monthly Magazine,' vol. ii. L802, p. 115. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 67 

" assertion of the anonymous biographer, 
" which I consider the most unfounded and 
" injurious — that Dr. Darwin wrote chiefly 
" for money. ... It is not improbable 
" that to avoid offensive adulation he miffht 
" have said ironically that his object in 
" writing was money, not fame. I have 
" heard him say so twenty times, but I never 
" for one moment supposed him to be in 
" earnest. . . . It is asserted by the re- 
" viewer * that he stooped to accept of gross 
" * flattery.' Perhaps in the inmost recesses 
" of his heart, vanity might reign without 
" control, but no man exacted less tribute of 
" applause in conversation. When the admi- 
" rable travestie of his poetic style was pub- 
" lished in the Anti-jacobin newspaper, I 
" spoke of it in his presence in terms of 
" strong approbation, and he appeared to 
" think as I did, of the wit, ingenuity, and 
" poetic merit of the parody." To ask the 
author of the * Loves of the Plants ' to admire 
the ' Loves of the Triangles * was putting his 
temper through a severe ordeal. Mr. Keir, 
who had known Dr. Darwin well for nearly 
half a century, remarks in a letter (May 12, 



68 LIFE OP 

1802) : " The works of your father are a 
" more faithful monument and more true 
" mirror of his mind than can be said of 
" those of most authors. For he was not 
" one of those who wrote invitd Minerva, or 
" from any other incitement than the ardent 
** love of the subject." 

Throughout his letters I have been struck 
with his indifference to fame, and the com- 
plete absence of all signs of any over-estima- 
tion of his own abilities or of the success of 
his works. I infer, from his having men- 
tioned the fact to my father, that he was 
pleased by receiving a print of himself, " well 
" done, I believe — proofs, IO5. 6c?. — the first 
" impression of which the engraver, Mr. 
'' Smith, believes will soon be sold, and he 
" will then sell a second at 55." He then 
adds : " but the great honour of all is to have 
" one's head upon a sign-post, unless, indeed, 
" upon Temple Bar ! " This engraving was 
copied from the picture by Wright of Derby, 
of which a photograph is given in the pre- 
sent volume. Many pictures were made of 
him, but with one or two exceptions they are 
characterised by a rather morose and discon- 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 69 

tented expression. Mr. Edgeworth, in writing 
to him about one of these pictures, says : 
" There is a cloud over your brow and a 
" compression of the lips that hide your 
" benevolence and good humour. And great 
" author as you are, dear doctor, I think 
" you excel the generality of mankind as 
" much in generosity as in abilities."* 

I have said that, as far as I can judge, he 
was remarkably free from vanity, conceit, or 
display ; nor does he appear to have been am- 
bitious for a higher j)osition in society. Miss 
Fielding, a granddaughter of Lady Charlotte 
Finch, governess to Queen Charlotte's dangli- 
ters, was taken to Dr. Darwin, at Derby, on 
account of her health, and was invited to stay 
some time at his house. George the Third 
heard of my grandfather's fame throngli 
Lady Charlotte, and said : ** Why does not 
" Dr. Darwin come to London ? He shall 
"be my physician if he comes"; and he 
repeated this over and over again in his 
usual manner. But Dr. Darwin and his wife 
agreed that they disliked the thoughts of a 
London life so much, that the hint was not 

* * Memoirs,' 2nd ed. vol. ii. p. 177. 
4 



70 ' LIFE OF 

acted on. Others have expressed surprise that 
he never migrated to London. 

That he was irascible there can be no doubt. 
My father says " he was sometimes violent in 
" his anger, but his sympathy and benevo- 
" lence soon made him try to soothe or soften 
" matters." Mr. Edge worth also says :* " Five 
" or six times in my life I have seen him 
" angry, and have heard him express that 
" anger with much real, and more apparent 
" vehemence — more than men of less sensi- 
" bility would feel or show. But then the 
" motive never was personal. When Dr. 
" Darwin beheld any example of inhumanity 
" or injustice, he never could refrain his 
" indignation ; he had not learnt, from the 
" school of Lord Chesterfield, to smother 
" every generous feeling." 

In 1804 Miss Seward published her ' Life 
of Dr. Darwin.' It was unfortunate for his 
fame that she undertook this task, for she 
knew nothing about science or medicine, and 
the pretentiousness of her style is extremely 
disagreeable, not to say nauseous, to many 

"? 'Monthly Magazine/ 1802, p. 115. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 7i 

persons; though others like the book much. 
It abounds with inaccuracies, as both my 
father and other members of the family 
asserted at the time of its publication. For 
instance, she states that when dying he sent 
for Mrs. Darwin, and first asked her and 
then his daughter Emma to bleed him, and 
gives their answers in inverted commas. But 
the whole account is a simple fiction, for he 
expressly told his servant not to call Mrs. 
Darwin, but was disobeyed as the servant 
saw how ill he was ; and his daughter was 
not even present. She does not even give 
his age at the time of his death correctly. It 
is also obvious that the many long speeches 
inserted in her book are the work of her own 
imagination, either with some or with no 
foundation. 

She describes (p. 406) his conduct when 
he heard of the suicide of his son Erasmus, 
who drowned himself during a fit of tem- 
porary insanity, as inhuman to an unpa- 
ralleled degree. She asserts that when he 
was told that the body " was found, he ex- 
" claimed in a low voice, ' Poor insane 
" * coward,' and, it is said, never afterwards 
'* mentioned the subject." Miss Seward then 



72 LIFE OF 

proceeds (p. 408), " this self-command enabled 
'' him to take immediate possession of the 
" premises bequeathed to him (by his son 
" Erasmus) ; to lay plans for their improve- 
" ment ; to take pleasure in describing those 
" plans to his acquaintance, and to determine 
" to make it his future residence ; and all this 
" without seeming to recollect to how sad an 
" event he owed their possession !'* 

The whole of this account is absolutely 
false, and when my father demanded her 
authority, she owned that it had been given 
merely on a report at a distant place, without 
any inquiry having been made from a single 
person who could have really known what 
happened. On the day after the death of 
his son (Dec. 30th, 1799), in a letter to 
my father, he says : " I write in great 
" anguish of mind to acquaint you with a 
" dreadful event — your poor brother Erasmus 
" fell into the water last night at the bottom 
^' of his garden, and was drowned." His 
daughter Emma, who was with him when 
the news was brought to him that the body 
had been at last found, gave the following 
account of his behaviour to my mother ; " He 
*' immediately got up, but staggered so much 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 73 

" that Yioletta and I begged of liim to sit 
" down, which he did, and leaned his head 
" upon his hand .... he was exceedingly 
" agitated, and did not speak for many 
" minutes. His first words were, ^ I beg you 
" * will not, any of you, ask to see your poor 
" 'brother's corpse;' and upon our assuring 
" him that we had not the least wish to do 
" so, he soon after said that this was the 
" greatest shock he had felt since the death of 
" his poor Charles." Emma then asserts that 
Miss Seward's other statements are utterly 
false, namely^ that he never afterwards men- 
tioned his son's death, and that he took imme- 
diate possession of the property bequeathed to 
him. After alluding to other inaccuracies, in 
Miss Seward's book, Emma concludes in a 
truly feminine and filial spirit : ^' There is 
" nothing else of such infinite consequence as 
" her daring publicly to accuse my dear papa of 
" want of affection and feeling towards his son. 
" How can this be contradicted ? I want to 
"• scratch a pen over all the lies, and send the 
" book back to Miss Seward ; but maunna 
" won't allow this. She thinks you and my 
" brother will think of a better plan ; for 
'' myself, I should feel no objection to swear 



74 LIFE OF 

" the truth of what I have said before both 
" houses of Parliament." 

In one of my grandfather's letters, dated 
Feb. 8th, 1800, he writes : "I am obhged as 
'^ executor daily to study his (Erasmus's) ac- 
" counts, which is both a laborious and 
" painful business to me." A fortnight after- 
wards he tells my father about a monument 
to be erected to Erasmus, and adds : " Mrs. 
" Darwin and I intend to lie in Breadsall 
" church by his side." Earely has a more un- 
founded calumn^T- been published about anyone 
than the above account given by Miss Seward 
of Dr. Darwin's behaviour when he heard of 
his son's death.* 

That the act of suicide was committed during 
temporary insanity there can be little doubt. It 

* Miss Seward published, on my father's demand, the follow- 
ing retractation in several journals, but such retractations are 
soon forgotten, and the stigma remains : " The authoress of the 
• Memoirs of Dr. Darwin,' since they were published, has dis- 
covered, on the attestation of his family and other persons pre- 
sent at the juncture, that the statement given of his exclamation, 
page 406, on the death of Mr. Erasmus Darwin, is entirely with- 
out foundation ; and that the doctor, on that melancholy event, 
gave amongst his own family, proofs of strong sensibility at the 
time, and of succeeding regard to the memory of his son, which 
he seemed to have a pride in concealing from the world. In 
justice to his memory, she is desirous to correct the misinforma- 
tion she had received." (' Monthly Magazine,' 1804, p. 378 ; 
and other journals and newspapers.) 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 75 

is known that a change of disposition generally 
precedes insanity, and Erasmus, from being 
an excellent man of business, had become 
dilatory to an abnormal degree. It appears 
that he had neglected to do something of im- 
portance for my father ; and my grandfather, 
nearly two years before Erasmus's death, 
wrote in his excuse to my father (Jan. 8th, 
1798) as follows: *^I have not spoken to 
him on your affairs, his neglect of small busi- 
nesses (as he thinks them, I suppose,) is a 
constitutional disease. I learnt yesterday that 
he had like to have been arrested for a small 
candle bill of 3 or 4 pounds in London, which 
had been due 4 or 5 years, and they had 
repeatedly written to him ! and that a trades- 
man in this town has repeatedly complained 
to a friend of his that he owes Mr. D. 
£70, and cannot get him to settle his ac- 
count. I write all this to show you, that his 
neglectful behaviour to you, was not owing 
to any disrespect, or anger, but from what ? 
— from defect of voluntary j^oiner. AVhenco 
he procrastinates for ever !" 
He was evidently conscious himself c^f some 
mental change, for he purchased, six weeks 



76 LIFE OF 

before his death, the small estate of the 
Priory, near Derby ; where he intended, 
though only forty years old, to retire from 
business, and spend the rest of his days in 
quiet ; or, as Dr. Darwin, who could not 
have foreseen what all this foreboded, ex- 
pressed it (in a letter to my father^ Nov. 
28th, 1799), "to sleep away the remainder of 
" his life." 

Amongst the property of Erasmus my 
grandfather found a little cross made of platted 
grass (now in my possession) gathered from 
the tomb of Charles, who had died twenty 
vears before. A week before his own death, 
he sent this to my father to be preserved. 

The false reports about Dr. Darwin's 
conduct on the death of his son, probably 
originated in his strong dislike to affectation, 
or to any display of emotion in a man. He 
therefore wished to conceal his own feelings, 
and perhaps did so too effectually. My father 
writes : " He never would allow any common 
" acquaintance to converse with him upon 

" any subject that he felt poignantly 

" It was his maxim, that in order to feel 
" cheerful you must appear to be so." There 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 77 

was, moreover, a vein of reserve in him. Miss 
Seward, in answer to a remark by my father, 
says (May 10th, 1802, i.e., before the puWica- 
tion of the ^ Memoirs ') : " Too well was I 
" acquainted with the disposition and habits 
" of your lamented father, to feel surprise 
" from your telling me bow little you had 
" been able to gather from himself concerning 
" the circumstances of his life, which pre- 
" ceded your birth, and those which passed 
" beneath the unobservant eyes of sportive 
" infancy." 

The many friends and admirers of Dr. Dar- 
win were indignant at Miss Seward's book, and 
thought that it showed much malice towards 
him. No such impression was left on my 
mind when lately re-reading it, but only that 
of scandalous negligence, together, perhaps, 
with a wish to excite attention to her book, 
by inserting any wild and injurious report 
about him. The friends, however, of Dr. 
Darwin were right, for in a letter, dated May 
12th, 1802, written to the Rev. Dr. WhalK-y,* 
before she published the Memoirs, she shows 

* * Journals of Dr. Whalley/ edited by Wick bam; not pub- 
lished until 1863, vol. i. p. 342. 



78 LIFE OF 

her true colours, and gives an odious character 
of " that large mass of genius and sarcasm," as 
she calls him : She speaks of the " cold 
" satiric atmosphere around him, repulsing 
" the confidence and the sympathy of friend- 
'' ship/' And adds in her usual stilted phrase, 
" Age did not imjDrove his heart; and on its 
" inherent frost, poetic authorism, commenc- 
" ing with him after middle life, engrafted 
" all its irritability, disingenuous arts, and 
'^ grudging jealousy of others' reputation in 
" that science." 

It is natural to inquire why Miss Seward 
wrote so bitterly about a man with whom 
she had lived on intimate terms during many 
years, and for whom she often exj^ressed, and 
probably felt, the highest admiration. The 
only possible explanation appears to be that 
she had wished to marry him after the death 
of his first wife and before his second 
marriage. This was the case according to 
several members of the family, and I under- 
stood from my father that he jDOssessed docu- 
mentary evidence (subsequently destroyed) to 
this effect. This explains the following sig- 
nificant sentence in a letter written to her by 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 79 

my father, March 5th, 1804, in relation to her 
account of the suicide of Erasmus : *' Were 
" I to have published my father's papers in 
" illustration of his conduct, some circum- 
" stances must unavoidably have appeared, 
" which would have been as unpleasant for 
" you to read as for me to publish." Disap- 
pointed affection, with some desire for 
revenge, renders her whole course of conduct 
intelligible. 

. I may here allude to some calumnies about 
Dr. Darwin, which appeared in 1858 in the 
' Life ' of Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, who was a 
younger sister of Tertius Galton, Dr. Darwin's 
son-in-law. She there says that he scoffed at 
conscience and morality, disbelieved in God, 
and was a coarse glutton. These statements 
are hardly worth notice, as they were dictated 
in old age, she having seen Dr. Darwin, in 
her own words, only '^ with the eyes of a 
child." Nor was she always a trustworthy 
person. I have a copy of a letter written 
(Feb. 20th, 1871) by one of her nieces to 
Dr. Dowson^ who had used her book in his 
* Life of Dr. Darwin,' and nothing can be more 
explicit than the remarks about her un- 



80 LIFE OF 

trustwortliiness. One of her sisters also, in 
speaking of these statements, says: " Thej 
'* are facts distorted, and give a false impres- 
" sion." With regard to the charge of glut- 
tony, as Dr. Darwin was a tall, bulky man, 
who lived much on milk, fruit, and vegetables, 
it is probable that he ate largely, as every 
man must do who works hard and lives on 
such a diet. 

As it is interesting to see how far Erasmus 
Darwin transmitted his characteristic qualities 
of mind to his descendants, I will give a short 
account of his children. He had three sous 
by his first wife (besides two who died in 
infancy), and four sons and three daughters 
by his second wife. His eldest son, Charles 
(born September 3, 1758), was a young man. 
of extraordinary promise, but died (May 15, 
1778) before he was twenty-one years old from 
the effects of a wound received whilst dissect- 
ing the brain of a child. He inherited from 
his father a strong taste for various branches of 
science, for writing verses, and for mechanics. 
"Tools were his playthings," and making 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 81 

"machines was one of the first efforts of his 
•* ingenuity, and one of the first sources of 
•* his amusement." * 

He also inherited stammering. Witli tlie 
hope of curing him, his father sent him to 
France when about eight years old (17G6-67), 
with a private tutor, thinking that if he was 
not allowed to speal?: English for a time, the 
habit of stammering might be lost ; and it is 
a curious fact that in after years when speak- 
ing French he never stammered. At a very 
early age he collected specimens of all kinds. 
When sixteen years old he was sent for a year 
to Oxford, but he did not like the place, and 
^* thought (in the words of his father) that the 
^' vigour of the mind languished in the pur- 
" suit of classical elegance, like Hercules at 
" the distaff^ and sighed to be removed to the 
" robuster exercise of the medical school of 
" Edinburgh." He stayed three years at 
Edinburgh, working hard at his medical 

* These statements are taken chiefly from a sketch of his life 
published by his father, Erasmus, in 1 780,- together with two ol" 
his posthumous medical essays. See also Hutchinson's * Bio- 
graphia Medica,' 1799, vol. i. p. 239 ; also ' Biographic 
Universelie,' vol. x. 1855 ; also an article in the * Gentleiuau's 
Magazine,' September 1st, 1794, vol. Ixiv. p. 794, signed " A. D," 
evidently Professor Andrew Duncan, of Edinburgh. 



82 LIFE OP 

studies, and attending " with diligence all the 
'' sick poor of the parish of Waterleith, and 
" supplying them with the necessary medi- 
" cines." The ^sculapian Society awarded 
him its first gold medal for an experimental 
enquiry on pus and mucus. Notices of him 
appeared in various journals; and all the 
writers agree about his uncommon energy 
and abilities. He seems, like his father, to 
have excited the warm affection of his friends. 
Professor Andrew Duncan, in whose family 
vault Charles was buried, cut a lock of hair 
from the corjDse, and took it to a jeweller, 
whose apprentice, afterwards the famous Sir 
H. Raeburn, set it in a locket for a memorial.* 
The venerable professor sj^oke to me about 
him with the warmest affection forty-seven 
years after his death, when I w^as a young 
medical student in Edinburgh. The inscrip- 
tion on his tomb, written by his father, says, 
with more truth than is usual on such occa- 
sions : " Possessed of uncommon abilities and 
** activity, he had acquired knowledge in 
" every department of medical and philoso- 
"^ phical science, much beyond his years." 

* * Harveian Discourse,' by Professor A. Duncan, 1824. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 88 

Dr. Darwin was able to reach Edinburgli 
before Charles died, and had at first hopes of 
his recovery ; but these hopes, as he informed 
my father, ** with anguish," soon disappeared. 
Two days afterwards he wrote to Wedgwood 
to the same effect, ending his letter with tlie 
words, " God bless you, my dear friend, may 
" your children succeed better." Two and a 
half years afterwards he again wrote to 
Wedgwood, " I am rather in a situation to 
" demand than to administer consolation." 

About the character of his second son, 
Erasmus (born 1759), I have little to say, for, 
though he wrote poetry, he seems to have had 
none of the other tastes of his father. He had, 
however, his own peculiar tastes, viz. gene- 
alogy, the collecting of coins, and statistics. 
When a boy he counted all the nouses in the 
city of Lichfield, and found out the number of 
inhabitants in as many as he could ; he thus 
made a census, and when a real one was first 
made, his estimate was found to be nearly 
accurate. His disposition was quiet and re- 
tiring. My father had a very high opinion 
of his abilities, and this was ]n'obably just, 
for he would not otherwise have been invited 



84 LIFE OF 

to travel with, and pay long visits to, men 
so distinguished in different ways as Boulton 
the engineer, and Day, the morahst and 
novelist. He was certainly very ingenious. 
He detected hy a singularly subtle plan the 
author of a long series of anonymous letters, 
which had caused, during six or seven years, 
extreme annoyance and even misery to many 
of the inhabitants of the county. The author 
was found to be a county gentleman of not 
inconsiderable standing. He was a successful 
solicitor in Lichfield, but his death, Dec. 30, 
1799, was a sad one, as I have already men- 
tioned. 

The third son, Robert Waring Darwin (my 
father, born 1766), did not inherit an}^ apti- 
tude for poetry or mechanics, nor did he 
possess^ as I think, a scientific mind. He 
published, in Yol. Ixxvi. of the ' Philosophical 
Transactions,' a paper on Ocular S^Dectra, 
which Wheatstone told me was a remarkable 
production for the period ; but I believe that 
he was largely aided in writing it by his 
father. He was elected a Fellow of the 
Royal Society in 1788. I cannot tell why 
my father's mind did not appear to me fitted 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 85 

for advancing science ; for he was fond of 
theorising, and was incomparably the jnost 
acute observer whom I ever knew. But his 
powers in this direction were exercised almost 
wholly in the practice of medicine, and in tlie 
observation of human character. He intui- 
tively recognised the disposition or character, 
and even read the thoughts, of those with 
whom he came into contact with extraordi- 
nary acuteness. This skill partly accounts 
for his great success as a physician, for it 
impressed his patients with belief in him ; 
and my father used to say that the art of 
gaining confidence was the chief element in 
a doctor's worldly success. 

Erasmus brought him to Shrewsbuiy 
before he was twenty-one years old, and left 
him £20, saying, "Let me know when you 
"want more, and I will send it you." His 
uncle, the rector of Elston, afterwards also 
sent him £20, and this was the sole pecuniary 
aid which he ever received. I have heard 
him say that his practice during the first 
year allowed him to kee^) two horses and a 
man-servant. Erasmus tells Mr. Edgeworth 
that his son Robert, after being settled in 



86 LIFE OF 

Shrewsbury for only six months, "already 
had between forty and fifty patients." By 
the second year he was in considerable, and 
ever afterwards in very large, practice. His 
success was the more remarkable, as he for 
some time detested the profession, and declared 
that if he had been sure of gaining £100 a 
year in any other way he would never have 
practised as a doctor. 

He had an extraordinary memory for the 
dates of certain events, so that he knew the 
day of the birth, marriage, and death of most 
of the gentlemen of Shropshire. This power, 
however, far from giving him any pleasure, 
annoyed him, for he told me that his memory 
for dates reminded him of painful events, and 
so added to his regret for the death of old 
friends. His spirits were generally high, and 
he was a great talker. He was of an ex- 
tremely sensitive nature, so that whatever 
annoyed or pained him, did so to an extreme 
degree. He was also somewhat easily roused 
to anger. One of his golden rules was never 
to become the friend of any one whom you 
could not thoroughly respect, and I think he 
always acted on it. But of all his charac- 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 87 

teristic qualities, his sympathy was pre-emi- 
nent, and I believe it was this whicli made 
him for a time hate his profession, as it con- 
stantly brought suffering before his eyes. 
Sympathy with the joy of others is a much 
rarer endowment than sympathy with their 
pains, and it is no exaggeration to say that 
to give pleasure to others was to my father 
an inteuse pleasure. He died November 13th, 
1849. A short notice of his life appeared in 
the * Proceedings of the Royal Society.' 

Of the children of Erasmus by his second 
marriage, one son became a cavalry officer, a 
second rector of Elston, and a third, Francis 
(born 1786, died 1859), a physician, who 
travelled far in countries rarely visited in 
those days. He showed his taste for Natural 
History by being fond of keeping a number 
of wild and curious animals. I may add that 
one of his sons. Captain Darwin, is a great 
sportsman, and has published a little book, 
the 'Gamekeeper's Manual' (4th ed. 1863), 
which shows keen observation and knowledge 
of the habits of various animals. The eldest 
daughter of Erasmus, Yioletta, married S. 
Tertius Galtou, and I feel sure that their sun, 



88 LIFE OP 

Francis,* will be willing to attribute the re- 
markable originality of his mind in large part 
to inheritance from his maternal grandfather.! 

As Dr. Krause has so fully discussed Dr. 
Darwin's published writings I have but little 
to say about them. After settling at Lich- 
field, he attended, during several years, chiefly 
to medicine ; but no doubt he was continu- 
ally observing and making notes on various 
subjects. A huge folio common-place book, 
begun in 1776, is in the possession of Reginald 
Darwin and is half filled with notes and specu- 
lations. Considering how voluminous a writer 
he became when old, it is remarkable that he 
does not apj^ear to have thought for a long 
time of publishing either prose or poetry. In 
a letter dated Nov. 21st, 1775; (astat. 43) to 

* Author of " Hereditary Genius," " English Men of Science," 
and of other works and papers. 

t Tn the interval between his first and second roamages, Dr. 
Darwin became the father of two illegitimate daughters. In our 
present state of society it may seem a strange fact that my 
grandfather's practice as a physician should not have suffered by 
his openly bringing up illegitimate children. But to his credit 
be it said that he gave them a good education, and from all that 
I have heard they grew up to be excellent women, and lived on 
intimate terms with his vddow and the children by the second 



marriage. 



ERA'SMUS DARWIN. 89 

Mr. Cradock,* thanking him for a present 
of his 'Village Memoirs,' he says: *' I have 
** for twenty years neglected the muses, and 
'' cultivated medicine alone with all my iu- 
^' dustry ... I lately interceded with 
" a Derbyshire lady to desist from lopping a 
'•' grove of trees, which has occasioned me to 
" try again the long-neglected art of verse- 
*' making, which I shall inclose to amuse you, 
" promising, at the same time, never to write 
" another verse a? long as I live, but to apply 
** my time to finishing a work on some branches 
'' of medicine, which I intend for posthumous 
" publication." 

In 1778 he purchased about eight acres of 
land near Lichfield, which he made into a 
botanic garden ; and this seems to have been 
his chief amusement. " This wild umbrageous 
" valley . . . irriguous from various 
" springs, and swampy from their i^lenitude," 
as Miss Seward calls it,f now forms part of an 
adjoining park ; and a Handbook for Lichfield 
describes it as still " a wild spot, but very 
" picturesque; many of the old trees remain- 

* * Literary Memoirs,' 1828, vol. iv. p. 1 43. 

t * Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin/ 1804, p. 125. 



90 LIFE OF 

" ing, and occasionally a few Darwinian snow- 
" drops and daffodils peeping tlirougli" the 
" turf, and bravely fighting the battle of life." 
This garden led him to write his poem of 
the 'Botanic G-arden,' the second part of 
which, entitled the 'Loves of the Plants,' was 
published, oddly enough, before the first part 
called the 'Economy of Vegetation.' The 
' Loves of the Plants,' judging from a prefixed 
sonnet, must have appeared in 1788, and the 
second edition in 1790. Miss Seward, in her 
life of Dr. Darwin, accuses him of having 
appropriated several of her verses, and of pub- 
lishing them in this poem without any acknow- 
ledgment. The case is a very odd one; for 
first, she herself admits* that it was entirely 
through his instrumentality that these verses 
were published with her name attached to 
them, before the appearance of the ' Botanic 
Garden,' in the ' Monthly Magazine,' and after- 
wards in the ' Annual Eegister.' Secondly, 
there seems to have been little temptation for 
the theft, for the whole history of his life 
shows that writing verses on any subject was 
not the least labour to him, but only a pleasure. 

* * Memoirs of the Life of Darwin/ p. 132. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 91 

And thirdly, that Miss Seward remained on 
the same friendly, ahnost playful, terms with 
him afterwards as before. The whole case is 
unintelligible, and in some respects looks more 
like highway robbery than simple plagiarism. 
Mr. Edgeworth, in a letter (Feb. 3, 1812) to 
Sir Walter Scott,* says that he had expressed 
surprise to Dr. Darwin at seeing Miss Seward's 
lines at the beginning of his poem, and that 
Dr. Darwin replied : " It was a compliment 
** which he thought himself bound to pay to a 
" lady, though the verses were not of the same 
** tenor as his own." But this seems a lame 
excuse, and it is an odd sort of compliment to 
take the verses without any acknowledgment. 
Perhaps he thought it fair play, for Edge- 
worth goes on to say that " Miss Seward's * Ode 
" * to Captain Cook ' stands deservedly high 
*' in public opinion. Now to my certain know- 
*^ ledge most of the passages which have been 
" selected in the various reviews of the work 
" were written by Dr. Darwin. ... I knew 
" him well, and it was as far from his temper 
" and habits, as it was unnecessary to his 
" acquirements, to beg, borrow, or steal from 
*' any person on earth." These passages at 

* ' Memoirs of R. L. Edgeworth,' 2m] ed. 1821, vol. ii. p. 215. 



92 LIFE OF 

any rate show how true and ardent a friend 
Edgeworth was to Dr. Darwin long after his 
death. 

In a letter to my father, dated Feb. 21st, 
1788, he says : " I am printing the ' Loves of 
" the Plants/ which I shall not put my name 
" to, tho' it will be known to many. But 
" the addition of my name would seem as if 
" I thought it a work of consequence." Not- 
withstanding this depreciatory estimate, its 
success was great and immediate ; and I have 
heard my father, who was accurate about 
figures, say that a thousand guineas were 
paid before publication for the part which 
was published last ; an amount which must 
have been something extraordinary in those 
days. Nor was the success quite transitory, 
for a fourth edition appeared in 1799. In 
1 806 an octavo edition of all his poetical works 
was published in three volumes. I have my- 
self met with old men who spoke with a 
degree of enthusiasm about his poetry, quite 
incomprehensible at the present day. Horace 
Walpole, in his letters repeatedly alludes 
with admiration to Dr. Darwin's poetry, and 
in a letter to Mr. Barrett (May 14th, 1792) 
writes ; — 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 93 

" The * Triumph of Flora/ beginning at the 
" fiftj-ninth line, is most beautifully and en- 
" chantingly imagined ; and the twelve verses 
" that by miracle describe and comprehend 
" the creation of the universe out of chaos, 
" are in my opinion the most sublime pas- 
" sages in any author, or in any of the few 
" languages with which I am acquainted. 
" There are a thousand other verses most 
" charming, or indeed all are so, crowded 
" with most poetic imagery, gorgeous epi- 
" thets and style : and yet these four cantos 
" diO not please me equally with the * Loves of 
" the Plants.' " The lines thus eulogised 
are : — 



(( 



— Let there be light ! " proclaimed the Almighty Lord. 
Astonished Chaos heard the potent word ; — 
Through all his realms the kindling Ether runs, 
And the mass starts into a million suns ; 
Earths round each sun with quick explosions burst. 
And second planets issue from the first ; 
Bend, as they journey with projectile force, 
In bright ellipses their reluctant course ; 
Orbs wheel in orbs, round centres centres roll, 
And form, self-balanced, one revolving whole. 
Onward they move amid their bright abode. 
Space without bound, the Bosom of their God ! 

(' The Botanic Garden,' part i. canto i. lines 103-lli.) 
6 



94 LIFE OF 

Mr. Edge worth, in a letter (1790) to 
Dr. Darwin, writes about tlie ' Botanic Gar- 
den :'* "I may, however, without wounding 
" your delicacy, say that it has silenced for 
" ever the complaints of poets, who lament 
" that Homer, Milton, Shakespeare, and a 
" few classics, had left nothing new to de- 
" scribe, and that elegant imitation of imita- 
" tions was all that could be expected in 
" modern poetry. ... I read the descrip- 
" tion of the Ballet of Medea to my sisters, 
'* and to eight -or ten of my own family. It 
" seized such hold of my imagination, that 
" my blood thrilled back through my veins, 
" and my hair broke the cementing of the 
" friseur to gain the attitude of horror." 
After the fame of his poetry had begun to 
wane, Edgeworth predicted (p. 117) ^' that in 
" future times some critic will arise who shall 
" rediscover the ' Botanic Garden,' and build 
"his fame upon the discovery." *' It will 
" shine out again, the admiration of posterity." 

Several poets addressed him in compli- 
mentary odes, as may be seen in the edition 

* 'Memoir of R. L. Edgeworth,' 2nd ed. 1821, vol. ii. 
p. 111. 



ERASMUS DARWIN". 95 

of 1806. Cowper, wlio^ one would have 
thought, differed in taste from him as much 
as one man could from another, yet, in con- 
junction with Hay ley, wrote a poem in his 
honour,* beginning : 

No envy mingles with our praise, 

Tho' could our hearts repine 
At any poet's happier lays, 

They would, they must, at thine. 

Notwithstanding the former high estimation 
of his poetry by men of all kinds in England, 
no one of the present generation reads, as it 
appears, a single line of it. So complete a 
reversal of judgment within a few years is a 
remarkable phenomenon. His verses were, 
however, quizzed by some persons not long 
after their publication. In the ' Pursuits of 
Literature,'! they are called : 

" Filmy, gauzy, gossamery lines. 

***** 

Sweet tetrandrian, monogynian strains." 

But the sudden downfall of his fame as a 
poet was in great part caused by the publica- 
tion of the well-known parody the ^ Loves of 

♦ Pated June 23, 1793, and published in the 'Monthly 
Magazine,' 1803, vol. ii. p. 100. 

t • Pursuits of Literature.' A Satirical Poem in Four Dia- 
logues; 14th ed. 1808, p. 54. 



96 LIFE OF 

the Triangles.' No doubt public taste was 
at this time changing, and becoming more 
simple and natural. It was generally ac- 
knowledged, under the guidance of Words- 
worth and Coleridge, that poetry was chiefly 
concerned with the feelings and deeper work- 
ings of the mind ; whereas, Darwin maintained 
that poetry ought chiefly to confine itself to 
the word-painting of visible objects. He re- 
marks (' Loves of the Plants ' : Interlude 
between Cantos I. and II.) that poetry 
should consist of words which express ideas 
originally received by the organ of sight. 
"... And as our ideas derived from visible 
" objects are more distinct than those derived 
" from the objects of our other senses, the 
" words expressive of these ideas belonging 
" to vision make up the jDrincipal part of 
" poetic language. That is, the poet writes 
" jDrincipally for the eye ; the prose writer 
" uses more abstracted terms." It must be 
admitted that he was a great master of lan- 
guage. In one of the earliest and best criti- 
cisms on his poetry* it is said no man " had a 

* ' Monthly Magazine or British Register,' 1802, vol. xiii. 
pp. 457-463. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 9 7 

" more imperial command of words, or could 
" elucidate with such accuracy and elegance 
" the most complex and intricate machinery." 
Byron called him '* a mighty master of un- 
meaning rhyme." 

His first scientific publication was a paper 
in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1757, 
in which he confutes the view of Mr. Eeles, 
that vapour ascends through " every particle, 
being endued with a portion of electric fire." 
The paper is of no value, but is curious as 
showing in what a rudimentary conditio q 
some branches of science then were. For Dr. 
Darwin remarks that the " distinction has not 
" been sufficiently considered by anyone to 
" my knowledge " between '* the immense 
" rarefaction of explosive bodies " due " to the 
" escape of air before condensed in them," as 
when a few grains of gunpowder are ex- 
ploded in a bladder, and to ^' the expansion 
" of the constituent parts of those bodies " 
through heat, as with steam. 

The following speculative letter (though not 
published) is interesting ; but its date must be 
borne in mind in judging of its merits. 



98 LIFE OF 

Erasmus Darwin to Josiah Wedgwood. 

DeAE Sir, March, 1784. 

I admire the way in which you support your 
new theory of freezing steam. You say, " Will not 
vapour freeze with a less degree of cold than water 
in the mass? instances hoar-frost, &c." Now this 
same et caster a, my dear friend, seems to me to be a 
gentleman of such consequence to your theory, that 
I wish he would unfold himself a little more. 

I sent an account of your experiment to Mr. 
Robert, and desired him to show it to Dr. Black, so 
that I shall hope some time to hear his opinion on 
the very curious fact you mention, of a part of ice 
(during a thaw) freezing whilst you applied a heated 
body to another part of it. Now in spite of your 
et csetera, I know no fact to ascertain that vapour 
will freeze with less cold than water. I can in no 
way understand why, during the time you apply a 
heated body to one part of a piece of ice, when the 
air of your room was at 50° and the ice had for a day 
or two been in a thawing state, that a congelation 
should be formed on another part of the same ice, 
but from the following circumstances. There is 
great analogy between the laws of the propagation of 
heat, and those of electricity, such as the same bodies 
communicate them easily, as metals, and the same 
bodies with more difficulty, as glass, wax, air : they are 
both excitable by friction, both give light, fuse metals. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 99 

et caetera. Tlierefore I suppose that atmospheres of heat 
of different densities, like atmospheres of electricity, 
will repel each other at certain distances, like globules 
of quicksilver pressed against each other, and that 
hence by applying a heated body near one end of a 
cold body, the more distant end may immediately 
become colder than the end nearest to the heated 
body. 

March 11, 1784. Since I wrote the above I have 
reconsidered the matter, and am of opinion that 
steam, as it contains more of the element of heat 
than water, must require more absolute cold to turn 
it into ice, though the same sensible cold, as is neces- 
sary to freeze water, and that the phenomenon you 
have observed, depends on a circumstance which has 
not been attended to. When water is cooled down 
to freezing point, its particles come so near together, 
as to be within the sphere of their reciprocal attrac- 
tions; — what then happens? — they accede with vio- 
lence to each other and become a solid, at the same 
time pressing out from between them some air, 
which is seen to form bubbles in ice and renders the 
whole mass lighter than w^ater (on which it will 
swim) by this air having regained its elasticity ; and 
pressing out any saline matters, as sea-salt, or blue 
vitriol, which have become dissolved in it ; and lastly 
by thus forcibly acceding together, the particles of 
water press out also some more heat, as is seen by 
the rising of the thermometer immersed in such 



100 LIFE OF 

freezing water. This last circumstance demands 
your nice attention, as it explains the curious fact 
you have observed. When the lieat is so far taken 
away from water, that the particles attract each 
other, they run together with violence, and press out 
some remaining heat, which existed in their inter- 
stices. Then the contrary must also take place when 
you add heat to ice, so as to remove the particles 
into their reciprocal spheres of repulsion : they recede 
from each other violently, and thence attract more 
heat into their interstices ; and if your piece of hot 
silver is become cold, and has no more heat to give, 
or if this thawing water in this its expansile state is 
in contact with other water which is saturated with 
heat, it will rob it of a part, or produce freezing if 
that water was but a little above 32°. 

I don't know if I have expressed myself intelli- 
gibly. I shall relate an experiment I made twenty- 
five years ago, which confirms your fact. I filled a 
brewing-copper, which held about a hogshead and 
half, with snow ; and immersed about half-an-ounce of 
w^ater at the bottom of a glass tube in this snow, as 
near the centre as I could guess, and then making a 
brisk and hasty wood-fire under it, and letting the 
water run off by a cock as fast as it melted, I found 
in a few minutes on taking out the tube that the water 
in it was frozen. This experiment coincides with 
yours, and I think can only be explained on the above 
principle. In support of the above theory I can 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 101 

prove from some experiments, that air when it is 
mechanically expanded always attracts heat from 
the bodies in its vicinity, and therefore water when 
expanded should do the same. But this would 
lengthen out my letter another sheet ; I shall there- 
fore defer it till I have the pleasure of a personal 
conference with you. Thus ice in freezing gives out 
heat suddenly, and in thawing gives out cold sud- 
denly; but this last fact had not been observed 
(except in chemical mixtures) because when heat has 
been applied to thaw ice, it has been applied in too 
great quantities. 

When shall we meet ? Our little boy has got the 
ague, and will not take bark, and Mrs. Darwin is 
therefore unwilling to leave him, and begs to defer 
her journey to Etruria till later in the season. Pray 
come this way to London or from London. Our best 
compts. to all yours. 

Adieu, 

E. Darwin. 

P.S. — Water cooled beneath 32°, becomes in- 
stantly ice on any small agitation, or pouring out 
of one vessel into another, because that the accession 
of the particles to each other, and the pressing out 
of the air, or saline matters, and of heat is facili- 
tated. 

The ' Zoonomia,' which had been in prepara- 
tion during many years, was published in 



102 LIFE OF 

1794. We have seen that in 1775 it was 

intended for posthumous publication. Even 

so late as Feb. 1792, Dr. Darwin wrote to my 

father : — " I am studying my * Zoonomia/ 

" which I think I shall publish, in hopes of 

*' selling it, as I am now too old and hardened 

" to fear a little abuse. Every John Hunter 

'' must expect a Jessy Foot to pursue him, as a 

" fly bites a horse." The work when published 

was translated into German, French, and 

Italian, and was honoured by the Pope by 

being placed in the * Index Expurgatorius.' 

Dr. Krause has given so full, impartial, and 

interesting an account of the scientific views 

contained in this and his other works that 

I need say little on this head. Although 

he indulged largely in hypotheses, he knew 

full well the value of experiments. Maria 

Edge worth, in writing (March 9th, 1792) 

about her little brother Henry, who was fond 

of collecting and observing, says : — '^ He will 

" at least never come under Dr. Darwin's 

*' definition of a fool. * A fool, Mr. Edge worth, 

" ' you know, is a man who never tried an 

experiment in his life. ' " * Again, in an 

* ♦ Memoir of Maria Edgeworth,' 1867, vol. 1. p., 31. 



u i 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 103 

Apology^ prefixed to the * Botanic Garden,' we 
have the following just remarks : — "It may 

* be proper here to apologise for many of the 
' subsequent conjectures on some articles of 
' natural philosophy, as not being supported by 

* accurate investigation, or conclusive experi- 
' ments. Extravagant theories, however, in 
' those parts of philosophy, where our know- 
^ ledge is yet imperfect, are not without their 
' use ; as they encourage .the execution of 
^ laborious experiments, or the investigation 
' of ingenious deductions to confirm or refute 
'• them. And since natural objects are allied 
' to each other by many affinities, every 
' kind of theoretic distribution of them adds 

* to our knowledge by developing some of 
' their analogies." 

Dr. Darwin proved himself more ready to 
admit those new and grand views in chemistry 
(a branch of science which always greatly 
interested him) which were developed 
towai'ds the close of the last century, than 
some professed chemists. James Keir, a 
distinguished chemist of the day, writing to 
him in March 1790, says* : "You are such 

* * Sketch of the Life of James Keir, F.H.S.' p. 111. 



104 LIFE OF 

" an infidel in religion that you cannot believe 
" in transubstantiation, yet you can believe 
'' that apples and pears, &c., sugar, oil, 
" vinegar, are nothing but water and char- 
" coal, and that it is a great improvement in 
" language to call all these things by one 
'' word— oxyde hydro-carbonneux." 

There is a good deal of psychology in the 
' Zoonomia,' but I fear that his speculations on 
this subject cannot be held to have much 
value. Nevertheless^ Gr. H. Lewes says of 
him*: "Although even more neglected than 
" Hartley by the present generation, Darwin, 
" once so celebrated, deserves mention here 
" as one of the psychologists who aimed at 
*^ establishing the physiological basis of mental 
*' phenomena." And again : " Had Darwin 
" left us only the passage just cited f we 
" should have credited him with a profounder 
'* insight into psychology than any of his 
"• contemporaries and the majority of his suc- 
" cessors exhibit ; and although the perusal of 
'^ ' Zoonomia ' must convince everyone that 
" Darwin's system is built up of absurd hypo- 

* ' History of Philosophy,' 3rd ed. 1867, vol. ii. p. 356. 
t ' Zoonomia,' vol. i. p. 27. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 105 

*' theses, Darwin deserves a place in history 
" for that one admirable conception of psy- 
" chology as subordinate to the laws of life." 
The illustrious Johannes Miiller quotes with 
approbation, though with correction, his ' law 
of associated movements.' * 

The ' Zoonomia ' is largely devoted to 
medicine, and my father thought that it had 
much influenced medical practice in England ; 
he was of course a partial, yet naturally a more 
observant judge than others on this point. The 
book when published was extensively read by 
the medical men of the day, and the author 
was highly esteemed by them as a practitioner. 
The following curious story, written down by 
his daughter, Yioletta, in her old age^ shows 
his repute as a physician. A gentleman in 
the last stage of consumption came to Dr. 
Darwin at Derby, and expressed himself to 
this effect : " I am come from London to con- 
" suit you, as the greatest physician in the 
" world, to hear from you if there is any hope 
** in my case ; I know that my life haugs upon 
'' a thread, but while there is life there may 

* Miiller's * Elements of Physiology,' trauslated by Baly, 1842, 
p. 943. 



106 LIFE OF 

" be hope. It is of the utmost importance 
*' for me to settle my worldly affairs immedi- 
" ately; therefore I trust that you will 
" not deceive me, but tell me without hesi- 
" tatioii your candid opinion." Dr. Darwin 
felt his pulse, and minutely examined him^ 
and said he was sorry to say there was no 
hope. After a pause of a few minutes the 
gentleman said : ^' How long can I live ? " 
The answer was : " Perhaps a fortnight." The 
gentleman seized Dr. Darwin's hand and said : 
'' Thank you, doctor, I thank you; my mind 
'* is satisfied ; I now know there is no hope for 
*^ me." Dr. Darwin then said : " But as you 
*' come from London, why did you not consult 
" Dr. Warren, so celebrated a physician ? " 
" Alas ! doctor, I am Dr. Warren." He died 
in a week or two afterwards. 

I remember only two points, with respect 
to which my father thought that medical 
practice in this country had been influenced 
by the ' Zoonomia.' * In this work it is said : 
" There is a golden rule by which the neces- 

* * Zoonomia,' 1794, vol. i. p. 99. I was led to searcli for 
this passage by its having been given by Dr. Dowson in his 
* Erasmus Darv/in : Philosopher, Poet, and Physician,' 1861, 
p. 46. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 10/ 

" sary and useful quantity of stimulus in 
" fevers with debility may be ascertained. 
" When wine or beer is exhibited, either 
" alone or diluted with water, if the pulse 
" becomes slower the stimulus is of a proper 
" quantity, and should be repeated every two 
" or three hours, or when the pulse again 
" becomes quicker." The value of this 
" golden rule" will be ajopreciated when it 
is remembered that the high importance of 
stimulants in fever has only rather recently 
been recognised and acted on. His views 
on fever certainly attracted attention at the 
time ; * but the use of stimulants in such 
cases has fluctuated much, and the history 
of the subject is an obscure one, as I infer 
from a letter which Sir Robert Christison 
has had the kindness to send me. 

The second point mentioned by my father, 
was the treatment of the insane. After say- 
ing f that no lunatic should be restrained 
unless he be dangerous. Dr. Darwin urges 
that in some cases " confinement retards 

* See, for instance, Dr. Baeta's work, ' Comparative View of 
the Theories and Practice of Drs. Culjen, Brown, and Darwnn' : 
published in 1800. 

t ' Zoouomia; vol. ii. 1796, p. 352. 



108 LIFE OF 

" rather than promotes their cure, which is 
" forwarded by change of ideas, &c." He 
then remarks that mistaken ideas do not by 
themselves justify confinement, and adds : 
" If everyone who possesses mistaken ideas, 
" or who puts false estimates on things, was 
" liable to confinement, I know not who of 
" my readers might not tremble at the sight 
" of a madhouse." 

In connection with this subject, the follow- 
ing quotation from Dr. Maudsley is interest- 
ing : * '* Here I may fitly take occasion to 
" adduce certain observations with regard 
" to the striking manner in which diseased 
" action of one nervous centre is sometimes 
'^ transferred suddenly to another, a fact 
•' which, though it has lately attracted new 
" attention, was long since noticed and com- 
*' mented on by Dr. Darwin : * In some con- 
'' * vulsive diseases,' he writes, ' a delirium 
" 'or insanity supervenes, and the convul- 
"' ' sions cease ; and conversely, the convul- 
'' ' sions shall supervene, and the delirium 
" ' cease. Of this I have been a witness 



* I 



Patholgy of Mind,' 1879, p. 229. 



ERASMUS DARWIN-. 109 

" ' many times a day, in the paroxysms of 
'' ' violent epileptics, which evinces that one 
" ' kind of delirium is a convulsion of the 
" ' organs of sense, and that our ideas are 
" ' the motions of those organs.' " 

Dr. Lauder Brunton has mentioned to me 
another instance in which Dr. Darwin appa- 
rently anticijDated a modern discovery. 

In an article in the ' British Medical Journal ' 
(1873, p. 735) on *' catching cold," Dr. Brun- 
ton gives an account of Rosenthal's experi- 
ments, showing that when an animal is 
exposed to a rather high temperature, "the 
" cutaneous vessels become paralysed by the 
" heat, and remain dilated even after cold 
" has been applied. The blood is thus ex- 
" posed over a large surface, and becomes 
" rapidly cooled." For instance, the blood 
of an animal thus treated fell from between 
107-6° and 111° to 96'8°, and remained at 
this lower temperature for several days. A 
passage in the Zoonomia * seems to show 
that Dr. Darwin was acquainted with the 
above important fact, discovered by Rosen- 
thal some hundred years later. 

* ' Zoonomia/ vol. ii. 1706, p. 570. 



110 LIFE OF 

Dr. Darwin fully recognised the truth and 
importance of the principle of inheritance in 
disease. He remarks : * "As many families 
" become gradually extinct by hereditary dis- 
" eases, as by scrofula, consumption, epilepsy, 
" mania, it is often hazardous to marry an 
" heiress, as she is not unfrequently the last of 
" a diseased family." His grandson, Francis 
Galton, so well known for his works on the 
subject of inheritance, would fully appreciate 
this remark. On the other hand, when a 
tendency to disease is confined to one parent, 
the children often escape. " I now know," 
as he writes to my father, January 5th, 1792, 
" many families who had insanity on one side, 
" and the children, now old people, have had 
" no symptom of it. If it were otherwise, 
" there would not be a family in the king- 
'' dom without epileptic, gouty, or insane 
" people in it." 

In 'The Temple of Nature' (Notes, p. 11), 
there is a curious instance of his prophetic 
sagacity with respect to " microscopic ani- 
" mals." A few years since a utilitarian philo- 

* 'The Temple of Nature/ 1803, notes, p. 45; published 
after his death. 



ERASMUS DARWIX. Ill 

eoplier might have sneered at men spending 
their lives in the examination of organisms 
far too minute to be seen by the naked eye ; 
and it would have been difficult to have 
given a satisfactory answer, except oji general 
principles, to such a man. But we now know 
from the researches of various naturalists how 
all-important a part these organisms play in 
putrefaction, fermentation, infectious diseases, 
&c. ; and as a consequence of such researches, 
the world owes a deep debt of gratitude to 
Mr. Lister for his anti-septic treatment of 
wounds. Therefore the following sentence of 
my grandfather, considering how little was 
then known on the subject, appears to me 
remarkable. He says : " I hope that micro- 
" scopic researches may again excite the at- 
" tention of philosophers, as unforeseen ad- 
" vantages may probably be derived from 
" them like the discovery of a new world." 

The * Phytologia/ was published in 1800. 
It begins with a discussion on the nature of 
leaf-buds and flower-buds ; and the view, now 
universally adopted, that a plant consists of '^ a 
** system of individuals/' and not merely of a 
multiplication of similar organs, originated 



112 LIFE OF 

with Darwin, as I infer from Johannes 
Muller's ' Elements of Physiology.'* 

Considering how recently the manner in 
which plants modify and absorb the nutriment 
stored up in their roots, tubers, cotyledons, &c. 
has been understood, the following sentence 
(* Phytologia,' p. 77) deserves notice : " The 
" digestive powers of the young vegetable, 
" with the chemical agents of heat and mois- 
" ture, convert the starch or mucilage of the 
" root or seed into sugar for its own nourish- 
" ment ; . . . and thus it appears pro- 
" bable that sugar is the principal nourish- 
" ment of both animal and vegetable beings." 

The work treats largely of agriculture and 
horticulture, and a section is devoted to phos- 
phorus, which, as he believes (p. 207), exists 
universally in vegetables, a question " which 
** has not yet been sufficiently attended to." He 
then refers to the use of bones as a manure, but 
erred in supposing that shells and some other 
substances which are luminous in the dark, 
abounded with phosphorus. Sir J. Sinclair, 
President of the Board of Agriculture, and 

* ' Elements of Physiology,' translated by Baly, 1842, 
p. 1421. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 113 

therefore a most capable jndge, says that, 
though the fertih'sing properties of bone-dust 
had been previously noticed by Hunter, yet 
" they were first theoretically explained and 
" brought forward with authority by Dr. Dar- 
" win." He then remarks, and of the truth 
of his remark there can be little doubt, '* per- 
" haps no (other) modern discovery has contri- 
" buted so powerfully to improve the fertility 
" and to increase the produce of the soil."* 

The following sentences are interesting as 
forecasting the progress of modern thouglit. 
In a discussion on " The Happiness of Or- 
ganic Life" (p. 556), after remarking that 
animals devour vegetables, he says : " The 
" stronger locomotive animals devour the 
" weaker ones without mercy. Such is the 
" condition of organic nature ! whose first law 
" might be expressed in the words, * eat or be 
" eaten,' and which would seem to be one 
" great slaughter-house, one universal scene 
" of rapacity and injustice." He proceeds: 
" Where shall we find a benevolent idea to 
" console us amid so much apparent misery ?" 

* I am indebted to Dr. Dowson's * Life of Erasmus Darwin, 
for the reference to the ' Life and Works of Sir J. Sinclair.' 



114 LIFE OF 

He then argues : " Beasts of prey more easily 
" catch and conquer the aged and infirm, and 
" the young ones are defended by their 
" parents. ...... By this contrivance more 

" pleasurable sensation exists in the world 
" .... old organisations are transmigrated 

" into young ones .... death cannot so 

" properly be called positive evil as the ter- 
" mination of good." There is much more of 
the same kind, and hardly mor^ relevant. 
He then makes a great leap in his argument, 
and concludes that all the strata of the world 
" are monuments of the past felicity of organ- 
" ised nature ! and consequently of the bene- 
^' volence of the Deity ! " 

It is a curious proof of the degree to which 
English botanists had been blinded by the 
splendour of the fame of Linnseus, that Dr. 
Darwin apparently had never heard of Jussieu, 
for. he writes (p. 564) : " If the system of the 
" great Linnseus can ever be intrinsically im- 
" proved, I am persuaded that the plan here 
" proposed of using the situations, propor- 
" tioiis, or forms, with or without the number 
" of the sexual organs, as criterions of the 
" orders and classes, must lay the foundation ; 



ERASMUS DARWIN-. ' 115 

" but that it must require a great architect 
" to erect the superstructure." He therefore 
did not know that a noble superstructure had 
ah^eady been raised. 

There remains only one other book to 
be noticed : ' A Plan for the Conduct of 
Female Education in Boarding Schools,' pub- 
lished in 1797. This is a short treatise which 
seems never to have received much attention 
in England, though it was translated into 
German. It is strongly characterised by plain 
common sense, with little theorising, and is 
throughout benevolent. He insists that 
punishment should be avoided as much as 
possible, and that reproof should be given 
with kindness. Emulation, though useful, is 
dangerous, from being liable to degenerate 
into envy. " If once you can communicate 
" to children a love of credit and an appre- 
" hension of shame, you have instilled into 
" them a principle, which will constantly act 
" and incline them to do right, though it is 
" not the true source whence our actions 
" ought to spring, which should be from our 
" duty to others and ourselves." He urges 
that sympathy with the pains and pleasures 



116 LIFE OF 

of others is the foundation of all our social 
virtues ; and that this can best be inculcated 
by example and the expression of our own 
sympathy. "Compassion, or sympathy with 
" the pains of others, ought also to extend to 
" the brute creation ... to destroy even 
" insects wantonly, shows an unreflecting 
" mind, or a depraved heart." 

He considers it of great importance to girls 
that they should learn to judge of character^, 
as they will some day have to choose a hus- 
band ; and he believes that reading proper 
novels teaches them something of life and 
mankind, and helps them to avoid mistakes 
in judging of character. He also remarks 
more than once, that children express various 
emotions in their countenances much more 
plainly than older persons ; and he is con- 
vinced that one great advantage which a child 
derives from going to school is in uncon- 
sciously acquiring a knowledge of physi- 
ognomy through mixing with other children. 
This knowledge, " by giving a promptitude 
" of understanding the present approbation 
" or dislike, and the good or bad designs of 
" those whom we converse with, becomes of 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 117 

*' hourly use in almost any department of 
" life." 

He was much in advance of his age in his 
ideas as to sanitary arrangements — such as 
supplying towns with pure water, having 
holes made into crowded sitting and bed- 
rooms for the constant admission of fresh air, 
and not allowing chimneys to be closed during 
summer, and as to diet and exercise. He 
speaks of " skating on the ice in v/inter, 
" swimming in summer, funambulation or 
" dancing on the straight rope," as '' not 
" allowed to ladies by the fashion of this age 
" and country." It is a pity he does not tell 
us when and where it was the fashion of 
young ladies to funambulate ! With respect 
to swimming, he disregarded fashion, and had 
his own daughters as well as his sons taught 
to swim at a very early age, so that they 
became, it is said, expert swimmers as early 
as four years old. In the ' Phy tologia ' he 
shows himself still more clearly a great 
sanitary reformer. He insists that the sewage 
from towns, which is now left buried or 
carried into the rivers, should be removed for 
the purpose of agriculture ; *' and thus the 

6 



118 LIFE OF 

' purity and healthiness of the towns may 

* contribute to the thriftiness and wealth of 
' the surrounding country." " There should 
' be no burial places in churches or in church- 
' yards, where the monuments of departed 

* sinners shoulder God's altar, . . . but 

* proper burial grounds should be consecrated 

* out of towns." Nearly a century has 
elapsed since this good advice was given, 
and it has as yet ODly partially been carried 
out. 



One of the subjects which interested Dr. 
Darwin most throughout his whole life, and 
which appears little in his published works, was 
mechanical invention. This is shown in his 
letters to Josiah Wedgwood, Edge worth, and 
others, and in a huge common-place book full 
of sketches and suggestions about machines. 
He seems, however, rarely to have completed 
anything, with the exception of a horizontal 
windmill for grinding flints, which he de- 
signed for Wedgwood, and which answered 
its purpose. There are schemes and sketches 
for an improved lamp, like our present 
moderators ; candlesticks with telescope stands 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 119 

SO as to be raised at pleasure to any required 
height ; a manifold writer ; a knitting loom for 
stockings ; a weighing machine ; a surveying 
machine; a flying bird, with an ingenious 
escapement for the movement of the wings, 
and he suggests gunpowder or compressed air 
as the motive power. He also gives a plan of 
a canal lock, on the principle of the boat being 
floated into a large box, the door of which is 
then closed, and the box afterwards raised or 
lowered. This principle has since been acted 
on under certain circumstances, but by an 
improved method. A rotatory pump was 
also one of his schemes, and this, under a 
modified form, is extensively used for blowing 
air into smelting cupolas, and for pumping 
water in certain cases. He saw clearly, as he 
explains in 1756 in a letter to Reimarus, that 
it would be a great advantage if the spokes of 
carriage wheels acted as springs ; and Sir J. 
Whitworth has recently had a carriage con- 
structed with such wheels^ which is remark- 
ably smooth. 

Another invention was a small carriage of 
peculiar construction, intended to give tlie 
best effect to the power of the horse, combined 



120 LIFE OF 

witb tlie greatest ease in turning. " It was 
" a platform/' says Miss Seward, " with a 
" seat fixed upon a very liigli pair of wheels, 
" and supported in the front upon the back 
" of the horse, by means of a kind of pro- 
" boscis, which, forming an arch, reached over 
" the hind quarters of the horse ; and passed 
" through a ring, placed on an upright piece 
" of iron, which worked in a socket, fixed in 
" the saddle."* But however correct this 
carriage may have been in principle, Darwin 
had the misfortune, in the year 1768, to be 
upset in it, when he broke his knee-cap and 
ever afterwards limped a little. 

A speaking machine was a favourite idea, 
and for this end he invented a phonetic alpha- 
bet. His machine, or " head, pronounced the 
"/>, 5, m, and the vowel a, with so great 
" nicety as to deceive all who heard it unseen, 
" when it pronounced the words mamay papa, 
" map^ and pam ; and it had a most plain- 

* Dr. Krause informs me " that the Moravian engineer, Theodo 
" Tomatschek, has lately constructed a very similar carriage, 
" which I saw at the Vienna International Exhibition ; and the 
" Americans have also reduced the Darwinian idea to practice, 
" and given the new vehicle the paradoxical name * Equibus.' " 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 121 

" tive tone, when the lips were gradually 
" closed."* Edgeworth also bears witness to 
the capacity of this speaking head. Matthew 
Boulton entered into the following agreement, 
which, from the witnesses to it, was evidently 
made at one of the meetings of the famous 
Lunar Club ; but whether in joke or earnest, 
it is diflScult to conjecture : 

I promise to pay to Dr. Darwin of Lichfield 
one thousand pounds upon his delivering to me 
(within 2 years from date hereof) an Instrument 
called an organ that is capable of pronouncing the 
Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and Ten Commandments 
in the Vulgar Tongue, and his ceding to me, and me 
only, the property of the said invention with all the 
advantages thereunto appertaining. 

M. Boulton 
Soho Sep. 3rd 1877 
Witness, James Keir 
Witness, W. Small 

In the last century a speaking tube was an 
unknown invention in country districts, and 



* * Temple of Nature,' notes, p. 120 ; p. 107 on the phonetic 
alphabet. See also * Memoirs of Edgeworth, vol. ii. p. 178, 



122 LIFE OF 

Dr. Darwin had one for his study, which 
opened near the back of the kitchen fire- 
place. A countryman had brought a letter 
and sat waiting for an answer by this fire, 
which had become very low, when suddenly 
he heard a sepulchral voice, saying, as if 
from the depths of the expiring fire, " I want 
" some coals." The man instantly fled from 
the house, for my grandfather had the repu- 
tation amongst the country folk of being a 
sort of magician. 

At a time (1783) when very few artesian 
wells had been made in this country. Dr. 
Darwin made one, though on a small scale; 
and in the garden- wall to his house in Full 
Street^ Derby, there still exists an iron plate 
with the following inscription : 

TEREEBELLO EDUXIT AQUAM 
ANNO ]\iDCCLXXXIII. 
ERASMUS DARWIN. 
LABITCJR ET LABETUE. 

This case would not have been worth men- 
tioning had he not shown in his paper,* in 



* i 



Philosopliical Transact.' 1785, part i. p. 1. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 123 

which this well is described, that he recog- 
nised the true principle of artesian wells. 
He remarks that " some of the more interior 
" strata of the earth are exposed naked on 
" the tops of mountains ; and that in general, 
"those strata which lie uppermost, or nearest 
" to the summit of the mountain, are the 
" lowest in the contiguous plains." He then 
adds that the waters " sliding between two 
" of the strata above described, descend till 
" they find or make for themselves an outlet, 
" and will in consequence rise to a level 
" with the parts of the mountain where they 
" originated." 

In Oct. 1771 he wrote several letters to 
Wedgwood about a scheme of making, with 
his own cajDital, a canal of very small dimen- 
sions from the Grand Trunk to Lichfield, for 
boats drawing only a foot of water, to be 
dragged by a man, and carrying only four or 
five tons burthen. Such a canal would have 
borne the same relation to ordinary canals, as 
some very narrow railways, which have been 
found to answer well in Wales, bear to ordinary 
railways. He seems to have been greatly 



124 LIFE OP 

interested in this project, which, however, 
never came to anything. 

The weather, and the course of the winds 
throughout the world, was another subject on 
which he was continually searching for infor- 
mation and speculating. I have heard my 
father say, that in order to notice every 
change of the wind he connected a wind-vane 
on the top of his house with a dial on the 
ceiling of his study. 

There remains only to be said that Erasmus 
Darwin died at Breadsall Priory, near Derby, 
on Sunday morning, April 18th, 1802, in his 
seventy-first year. A week previously he had 
been ill for a few days, but had recovered. 
On the 17th, whilst walking in his garden 
with a lady, he told her that he did not expect 
to live long. At night he was as cheerful as 
usual. On the following morning, the 18th, 
he rose at six o'clock and wrote a long 
letter to Mr. Edgeworth* which he did not 
live to finish, and which contains the follow- 
ing description of the Priory, where he had 

* R. L. Edgewortli's * Memoirs,' 2ud ed., vol. ii. p. 242. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 



125 







Bbeadsall Pkiort, where Erasmus DARmu died. 



126 LIFE OF 

been living for about two years : " We have 
" a pleasant house, a good garden, ponds full 
" of fish, and a pleasing valley somewhat like 
" Shenstone's — deep, umbrageous, and with a 
" talkative stream running down it. Our 
" house is near the top of the valley, well 
" screened by hills from the east and north, 
" and open to the south, where, at four miles 
" distance, we see Derby tower." At about 
seven o'clock he was seized with a violent 
shivering fit, and went into the kitchen to 
warm himself; he returned to his study, lay 
on the sofa, became faint and cold, and was 
moved into an arm-chair, where without pain 
or emotion of any kind he expired a little 
before nine o'clock. 

A few years before he had written to Edge- 
worth : '' When I think of dying, it is always 
without pain or fear ;" but he had often ex- 
pressed a strong hope that his end might be 
painless, and so it j^roved. His medical attend- 
ants differed about the cause of his death, but 
my father did not doubt that it was an affec- 
tion of the heart. Many years afterwards his 
widow showed me the sofa and chair, still 
preserved in the same place, where he had lain 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 127 

and expired. He was buried in Breadsall 
Church. 

ERASMUS DARWIN, M.D., F.R.S. 

Born at Elston, near Newark, 12th Dec, 1731. 

Died at the Priory, near Derby, 10th April, 1802. 

Of the rare union of Talents 

which so eminently distinguished him ' 

as a Physician, a Poet and PhilosoiDher 

His writings remain 

a public and unfading testimony. 

His Widow 

has erected this monument 

in memory of 

the zealous benevolence of his disposition, . 

the active humanity of his conduct, 

and the many private virtues 

which adorned his chai-acter. 



TTIE SCIENTIFIC AVORKS 



or 



EEASMUS DAEWIN. 



By ERNST KEAUSE. 



TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY W. S. DALLAS, F.L.S. 



On the second page of the later editions of 
Darwin's ^ Origin of Species ' * we find the 
following brief observation : — " It is curious 
how largely my grandfather, Dr. Erasmus 
Darwin, anticipated the views and erroneous 
grounds of opinion of Lamarck in his ' Zoo- 
nomia' (voh i. pp. 500-510), published in 
1794." Being quite aware of the reticence 
and modesty with which tlie author expresses 
himself, especially in speaking pro domo, I 
thought immediately that here we ought to 
read between the lines, aud that this ancestor 
of his must certainly deserve considerable 
credit in connection with the history of the 
Darwinian theory. As no light was to be 
obtained upon this subject from German 
literature I procured the works of Erasmus 
Darwin, and have found singular pleasure in 
their study. 

I was speedily convinced that this man, 

* Sixth edition, p. xiv. note 



132 LIFE OF 

equally eminent as philanthropist, physician, 
naturalist, philosopher, and poet, is far less 
known and valued by posterity than he 
deserves, in comparison with other persons 
who occupy a similar rank. It is true that 
what is perhaps the most important of his 
many-sided endowments, namely his broad 
view of the philosophy of nature, was not 
intelligible to his contemporaries ; it is only 
now, after the lapse of a hundred years, that 
by the labours of one of his descendants we 
are in a position to estimate at its true value 
the wonderful perceptivity^ amounting almost 
to divination, that he displayed in the domain 
of biology. For in him we find the same in- 
defatigable spirit of research, and almost the 
same biological tendency, as in his grandson ; 
and we might, not without justice, assert that 
the latter has succeeded to an intellectual 
inheritance, and carried out a programme 
sketched forth and left behind by his grand- 
father. 

Almost every single work of the younger 
Darwin may be paralleled by at least a 
chapter in the works of his ancestor; the 
mystery of heredity, adaptation, the pro 



EUASMUS DARWIN. 13 



o 



tective arrangements of animals and plants, 
sexual selection, insectivorous plants, and 
the analysis of the emotions and sociological 
impulses ; nay, even the studies on infants are 
to be found already discussed in the writings 
of the elder Darwin. But at the same time 
we remark a material difference in their inter- 
pretation of nature. The elder Darwin was a 
Lamarckian, or, more properly, Jean Lamarck 
was a Darwinian of the older school, for 
he has only carried out further the ideas 
of Erasmus Darwin, although with great 
acumen ; and it is to Darwin therefore that 
the credit is due of having first established a 
complete system of the theory of evolution. 
The evidence of this I shall adduce hereafter. 
The unusual circumstance that a grand- 
father should be the intellectual j^recursor of 
his grandson in questions which now-a-days 
more than any others move the minds of men, 
must of itself suffice to excite the liveliest 
interest. But at the same time it must be 
pointed out that in this fact we have not 
the smallest ground for depreciating the 
labours of the man who has shed a new 
lustre upon the name of his grandfather. It 



134 LIFE OP 

is one thing to establish hypotheses and 
theories out of the fulness of one's fancy, 
even when supported by a very considerable 
knowledge of nature, and another to demon- 
strate them by an enormous number of facts, 
and carry them to such a degree of probability 
as to satisfy those most capable of judging. 
Dr. Erasmus Darwin could not satisfy his 
contemporaries with his physio-philosophical 
ideas ; he was a century ahead of them, and 
was in consequence obliged to put up with 
seeing people shrug their shoulders when 
they spoke of his wild and eccentric fancies, 
and the expression " Darwinising " (as em- 
ployed for example by the poet Coleridge 
when writing on Stillingfleet) was accepted 
in England nearly as the antithesis of sober 
biological investigation.* 

The many-sidedness of his endowments also 
injured his fame in another direction. The 
physicians reproached him with being a 
philosopher; and the philosophers thought 
themselves justified in complaining that he 
was of far too poetical and fanciful a con- 
stitution ; the poets and literati on the other 

* See * Athenffium,' March, 1875, p. 423. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 135 

hand objected to his position as a phj^sician 
and his scientific tendencies ; and thus partiaHty 
and prejudice prevented his judges from a 
full and complete recognition of the value of 
the man. His life and labours have frequently 
been described, but always by either litterateurs 
or medical men, and hence the picture pro- 
duced has always had a partizan colouring. 

Nevertheless it is gratifying to find that 
each of his biographers has expressed the 
highest appreciation of precisely that side of 
the doctor's activity of which he was most 
capable of judging. The literati formerly ex- 
tolled his poetical merits. Eighteen years 
ago an English physician praised his medical 
contributions; and it has remained for the 
present writer to add to these the hitherto 
neglected tribute of recognition* which is due 
to him on the part of natural history and 
physio-philosophy. 

It is characteristic of this distinguished 
man that he never exhibited those fluctuating 
opinions with respect to the evolution of 
organic beings which are evident in the 
works of Linnaeus and Buffon. 

* See * Kosmos,' February, 1879, p. 393. 



136 LIFE OF 

When Gothe, in the year 1786, penetrated 
by the thought that a common organization 
must bind together the higher animals, de- 
monstrated the existence of the intermaxillary 
bone in man, the supposed absence of which 
had been regarded as a character clearly 
separating man from animals, no anatomist 
would agree with him ; his idea of vegetable 
metamorphosis, which he brought forth about 
the same time, was strenuously opposed by the 
.botanists; and his discovery in 1790 of the 
vertebral nature of the skull has only met 
with justice in our own days. Exactly similar 
was the fate of Dr. Darwin, who, as we shall 
show, was far in advance of his age. Exceed- 
ingly successful in grasping and combining 
separated things, G-othe absolutely detested 
the analytical activity of the exact investigator, 
although he availed himself of it, and indeed 
exercised it himself in procuring the materials 
for his new conception of the world. Dr. 
Darwin had no such aversion to the analytical 
activity of the philosophers and specialists, 
and hence he carried his construction further 
than any of his predecessors and contem- 
poraries. The similarity of the conceptions 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 137 

of the universe of the two poets is in many 
respects as great as their need to give utter- 
ance to them in verse ; but this agreement 
may be easily explained if we consider that 
both of them started from the investigations 
of the same precursors, Buffon and Linnaeus. 

The first great work of Darwin, the didactic 
poem ' The Botanic G-arden,' is divided into 
two parts, which are not very closely con- 
nected ; for this reason I shall hereafter cite the 
second part, ' The Loves of the Plants,' which 
appeared before the first, under the above 
special title * The first part, ' The Economy 
of Yegetation,' certainly answers to both the 
principal and special titles only in its last 
canto, the first three cantos describing the 
action of the forces of nature. in general, and 
specially the formation of the world. Yarious 
critics have expressed the opinion that Dr. 
Darwin's didactic poem was an imitation of 
one which appeared anonymously in London 
in 1735 under the title of * Universal Beauty,' 
the author of which afterwards turned out to 

* The following citations refer throughout to the second edi- 
tions, both of the first part (*The Economy of Vegetation,' 
London, Johnson, 1791) and of the second (' The Loves of the 
Plants,' London, Nichols, 1790). 



138 LIFE OF 

be the poet Henry Brooke. OtTaers have re- 
presented Sir Richard Blackmore's poem, * The 
Creation,' which appeared in 1712, as the 
model.* Neither statement has the slightest 
foundation. Henry Brooke's ' Universal 
Beauty ' is a " Physico-theology " in verse, 
which, although decidedly more sonorous and 
poetical than the offspring of the similarly 
employed muse of his German namesake 
(Heinrich Brookes), is merely devoted to a 
representation of the glories of creation of 
the same character as the physico-theologies of 
that period. Blackmore's * Creation,' which, 
from its being divided into seven books, people 
have been led to regard as belonging to the 
Diluvianistic literature, treats of the process of 
creation ouly by the way ; and is essentially a 
purely polemico-rhetorical pliilippic against the 
atheists, from Democritus and Epicurus down 
to Descartes and Spinoza, in which we find so 
little sound judgment and insight that tlie 
author can by no means umke up his mind 

* The suggestion that Dr. Darwin may have made use of 
Brooke's * Universal Beauty ' as his pattern, seems to have first 
appeared in a critical article in the ' Edinburgh Eeview ' (April, 
1803, 4th ed. p. 491), but has since passed, as a demonstrated fact, 
into later biographical works, e.g., the ' Biographic Universelle.' 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 139 

whether he shall decide in favour of Aristotle 
and Ptolemy, or of Copernicus, Kepler, and 
Newton. The Grerman critics who regard 
Blackmore's poem as the model of Darwin's 
' Botanic Garden ' must certainly have 
neglected to read at least one of these 
didactic poems. Blackmore's work might 
much rather be regarded as the pattern for 
Polignac's ' Anti Lucretium,' although it is far 
exceeded by the latter in dialectic acuteness. 

In the introduction and apology to the 
* Botanic Grarden ' the author says : *' The 
" general design of the following sheets is to 
" inlist Imagination under the banner of 
" Science ; and to lead her votaries from the 
" looser analogies which dress out the imagery 
" of poetry _, to the stricter ones, which form 
" the ratiocination of philosophy. ... It 
" may be proper here to apologize for many 
*' of the subsequent conjectures on some 
*' articles of natural philosophy, as not being 
*' supported by accurate investigation or con- 
" elusive experiments. Extravagant theories, 
" however, in those parts of philosophy, where 
" our knowledge is yet imperfect, are not 
** without their use ; as they encourage the 



140 LIFE OF 

** execution of laborious experiments, or the 
" investigation of ingenious deductions, to 
" confirm or refute them." 

The plan of the poem was to a certain 
extent prescribed by those initial verses of 
Miss Seward's, which the author placed at the 
commencement of his work, either out of 
gallantry or in acknowledgment of their 
having given the first inducement to the 
production of the poem. Starting from the 
fundamental idea that the mythology of the 
ancients glorified the forces and government 
of nature in the persons of their deities, 
he has introduced the personified forces of 
nature which prevail in fire, air, water, and 
earth; and then represents the goddess as 
addressing herself to the different groups of 
elementary spirits, in a figurative discourse, 
permeated throughout with mythological ele- 
ments, and describing the part taken by each 
in the formation and life of the world. Thus 
the first canto is addressed to the " nymphs of 
primeval fire," and he accordingly describes 
the production of the universe from this 
source, at the same time bringing together 
many of the ordinary phenomenal forms of 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 141 

fire, heat, and light. Matters which can only 
be slightly touched upon in the verses are 
further elaborated, partly in short footnotes 
and partly in more detailed memoirs (addi- 
tional notes) which are relegated to the end 
of the volume. It is to these notes that our 
attention must principally be directed. 

We are especially interested in a note to 
verse 101 of the first canto, in which the 
author unfolds the idea and the first scheme 
of the theory of evolution. He says: **From 
" having observed the gradual evolution of the 
" young animal or plant from its egg or seed ; 
" and afterwards its successive advances to its 
" more perfect state, or maturity; philosophers 
" of all ages seem to have imagined that the 
" great world itself had likewise its infancy and 
" its gradual progress to maturity ; this seems 
" to have given origin to the very antient 
** and sublime allegory of Eros, or Divine love, 
" producing the world from the egg of Night, 
"as it floated in chaos." To the second 
particularly important part of this note we 
shall have to refer hereafter. 

For the student of the history of civilization 
who looks back from a Darwinistic standpoint, 

7 



142 LIFE OP 

a fancy worked out in this canto as to the 
discovery and subjugation of fire, which 
Darwin denominates *'the first art," will be 
particularly interesting. 

" Nymphs ! your soft smiles Tmcultur'd man subdned. 
And charm'd the Savage from his native wood ; 
You, while amaz'd his hurrying Hords retire 
From the fell havoc of devouring Fire, 
Taught, the first Art ! with piny rods to raise 
By quick attrition the domestic blaze, ' 

Fan with soft breath, with kindling leaves provide, 
And list the dread Destroyer on his side. 
So, with bright wreath of serpent-tresses crown'd. 
Severe in beauty, young Medusa frown'd ; 
Erewhile subdued, round Wisdom's ^gis rolFd, 
Hiss'd the dread snakes, and flam'd in burnish'd gold ; 
Flash'd on her brandish'd arm the immortal shield. 
And Terror lighten'd o'er the dazzled field.'* * 

We then have the well-known verses on 
the power of steam, vv. 289-296. 

" Soon shall thy arm, Unconquer'd Steam, afar 
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car ; 
Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear 
The flying-chariot through the fields of air. 

Fair crews, triumphant, leaning from above. 

Shall wave their flutt'ring kerchiefs as they move ; 
Or warrior-bands alarm the gaping crowd. 
And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud. 

* * Economy of Vegetation,' canto i. vv. 209-222, 



ERASMTTS DARWIN. 143 

So mighty Hercules o*er many a clime 
Waved his vast mace in Virtue's cause sublime, 
Umneasured strength with early art combined, 
Awed, served, protected, and amazed mankind," 

The second canto is addressed to the gnomes 
or earth-spirits, and describes the gradual 
development of the earth, which, with the other 
planets, the author believes to have been cast 
forth from a volcano in the sun. Bj stronger 
friction or adhesion to one wall of this volcano 
the earth received its axial revolution and 
spheroidal form ; by refrigeration a nucleus 
was formed, upon which the waters were 
precipitated as a primeval ocean free from 
salt, while the lighter gases formed the atmo- 
sphere. " It is probable," he adds, " that all 

"the calcareous earth in the world 

" was formed originally by animal and vege- 
" table bodies from the mass of water."* By 
the lixiviation of the rocks the seas became 
salt. Finally the formation of the vegetable 

* It was a favourite notion of Dr. Darwin's that all the lime 
of the earth originated from living creatures, corals, shells, and 
other animals, and therefore must have taken part in the plea- 
sures and pains of hfe. The limestone mountains of England 
appeared to him as " mighty monuments of past delight." It 
was probably in consequence of this idea, and in allusion to his 
family arms, consisting of three scallop shells, that he altered 
his motto to " E conchis cmnia." 



144 LIFE OF 

world is indicated, to which may be added 
here from the second part (pp. 36 and 44) 
that Darwin regarded lichens as the oldest 
terrestrfal plants, and, like Hackel in more 
recent times, he referred the fungi to a 
kingdom which, like " a narrow isthmus," 
united plants and animals. 

In the third canto, addressed to the water- 
nymphs, the circulation and action of water 
upon the earth is described. The formation 
of clouds, the sea and its life, springs, rivers, 
geysers, glaciers, coral structures, &c. In this 
connection the fossil marine animals also come 
under discussion; and after mentioning the 
singular circumstance that most fossil marine 
animals as, for example, the ammonites, are 
no longer foimd living, whilst the living 
animals do not occur in the fossil state, the 
author raises the questions, " Were all the 

* ammonia destroyed when the continents 

* were raised ? Or do some genera of animals 

* perish by the increasing power of their 
' enemies ? Or do they still reside at in- 
' accessible depths in the sea ? Or do some 
' animals change their forms gradually and 
' become new genera ?"* 

* ' The Economy of Vegetation/ p. 120. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 145 

The question of the transformation of species 
and their development into higher forms was 
a favourite one with the elder Darwin, and 
one to which he has given expression in all 
his works, at least in one place, and usually 
in very similar terms. Already, in the eighth 
page of the poem now under consideration, he 
brings it forward, and after having spoken 
of the stratified formation of the earth in a 
note, the commencement of which has already 
been given, he says : " There are likewise 
" some apparently useless or incomplete 
'' appendages to plants and animals which 
" seem to shew they have gradually under- 
" gone changes from their original state ; such 
" as the stamens without anthers, and styles 
" without stigmas of several plants, as men- 
" tioned in the note on Curcuma, vol. ii. of 
" this work. Such as the halteres, or rudi- 
" ments of wings of some two-winged insects, 
" and the paps of male animals ; thus swine 
" have four toes, but two of them are im- 
" perfectly formed, and not long enough for 
" use.'' We here break off in order to append 
the above-mentioned note on the Turmeric 



146 LIFE OF 

plant, wliicli gives tlie theory of rudimentary 
organs still more completely. " There is a 
'' curious circumstance," he says, " belonging 
" to the class of insects which have two wings, 
'' or diptera, analogous to the rudiments of 
" stamens above described ; viz. two little 
" knobs are found placed each on a stalk or 
" peduncle, generally under a little arched 
" scale; which appear to be rudiments of 
" hinder wings ; and are called by Linneus 
" halteres, or poisers, a term of his introduc- 
" tion. Other animals have marks of having 
" in a long process of time undergone changes 
** in some parts of their bodies, which may 
" have been effected to accommodate them to 
" new ways of procuring their food. The 
" existence of teats on the breasts of male 
" animals, and which are generally replete 
" with a thin kind of milk at their nativity, is 
" a wonderful instance of this kind. Perhaps 
" all the productions of nature are in their 
" progress to greater perfection ? — an idea 
" countenanced by the modern discoveries 
" and deductions concerning the progressive 
" formation of the solid parts of the ter- 



ERASMUS DARWIN-. ]47 

" raqiieous globe, and consonant to the dignity 
" of the Creator of all things."* 

Buffon before him had regarded the rudi- 
mentary organs somewhat in the same way, 
but he had by no means perceived with equal 
clearness their part as evidence in favour 
of the theory of descent. The pig, says 
Buffon, rather mysteriously, " does not appear 
^* to have been formed upon an original, 
" special and perfect plan, since it is a com- 
" pound of other animals ; it has evidently 
" useless parts, or rather parts of which it 
" cannot make any use, — toes, all the bones 
" of which are perfectly formed, and which 
" nevertheless are of no service to it. Nature 
" is consequently far from subjecting herself 
" to final causes in the formation of her 
" creatures. Why should she not sometimes 
" add superfluous parts, when she so often 
" seems to omit essential ones ? . . . . Why 
" do we regard it as necessary that in each 
*' individual every part should be useful to 
" the others and necessary to the whole ? 
" Does it not suffice for their co-existence that 
" they do not injure one another, that they 

* * Loves of the Plants/ pp. 7, 8. 



148 LIFE OF 

" can grow without hindrance, and develope 
'* without obliterating each other ? All parts 
'' which do not sufficiently injure one another 
'* to cause mutual destruction, all that can 
" exist together, exist ; and perhaps in the 
" majority of living creatures there are fewer 
*' related, useful or necessary, than indifferent, 
" useless or superfluous parts. But we, always 
" wishing to refer everything to a certain 
" purpose, when parts have no apparent use, 
" invent for them hidden purposes and 
'* imagine unfounded relations which do not 
" exist in the nature of things, and only serve 
'* to obscure matters. We fail to see that 
" thus we deprive philosophy of its true 
" character, and misrepresent its object, which 
" consists in the knowledge of the ' How ' of 
" things, the way in which nature acts, and 
*' that we substitute for this real object a vain 
** idea by seeking to divine the * Why ' of 
" the facts, or the purpose which she has in 
" her activity." * 

Buffon had a dim idea that rudimentary 
organs and similar irregularities found their 
explanation in the consideration of the genera] 

* * Hist. Nat.' tome v. 1755, pp. 103, 104. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 149 

connection of natural objects ; he indicated 
that doubtful species, irregular structures, and 
anomalous existences found their place in the 
eternal order of things, as well as all others, 
and that they complete the links of the chain ; 
but he has not expressed his opinion upon 
these points with any distinctness, like Dr. 
Darwin. The chief force of the above words 
is evidently directed against the physico- 
theologians. 

The last century was a period of the most 
industrious and endless search after design. 
In opposition to the French philosophy, 
with its materialistic tendency, innumerable 
hosts of pious writers came forward in Eng- 
land, Holland, and especially in Germany, 
and undertook to prove the divine origin 
of all things from the study of nature itself, 
and indeed, from every straw and sand- 
grain. Following on the two best works of 
this kind, namely, Swammerdamm's * Biblia 
Nature,' and John Ray's * The Wisdom of 
God Manifested in Creation' (1G91), there 
poured forth upon the people such a flood 
of writings upon natural theology that a 
book would be required to give a toler- 



150 LIFE OF 

able review only of the chief of them : — 
Nehemiah Grew's 'Cosmologia Sacra' (1711), 
and Derham's ' Astro-,' Physico-,' Hydro-' and 
' Pyro-theology ' were occupied more with 
general questions, but in Germany, on this 
field favoured by the Leibnitz- Wolfian philo- 
sophy, the minutest details were gone into. 
A shallow, sickly enthusiasm, which was 
called " natural religion," gained the upper 
hand ; the whole world appeared only to 
exist for the service, pleasure and edification 
of man. Lesser's ' Litho-theologie ' (1735) 
and Rohr's ' Phyto-theologie ' (1739) were 
followed, going more into detail, by Lesser's 
' Insecto-theologie ' (1738), and the same 
learned pastor's * Testaceo-theologie,' Zorn's 
' Petino-theologie ' (1742) and two ' Ichthyo- 
theologies' by Malm and Richter (1751 and 
1752), Gradually even the individual species 
of animals took their turn, e.g., the bees in 
Schierach's ' Melitto-theologie ' (.1767); nay, 
even such natural phenomena of very doubt- 
ful benefit as swarms of locusts and earth- 
quakes were rendered harmless in Rathleff's 
voluminous * Acrido-theologie ' (1748) and 
Pren's ' Sismo-theologie ' (1772). That Hein- 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 151 

sius celebrated " Snow as an admirable crea- 
ture of God " in his ' Chiono-theologie ' 
(1735), and Ahlwardt did tbe same good 
service to tbunder and lightning in his 
' Bronto-theologie ' (1745) was only right and 
proper. 

Buffon could not escape from this tendency 
of his time, and in the first volume of his 
' Natural History ' he devoted a long justifica- 
tory chapter to the mountains which Burnet 
had charged with being evidences of the Fall 
of Man. Feuerlin, however, had preceded 
him with a Latin Dissertation on the moun- 
tains as divine witnesses (1729) in opposition 
to Lucretius and Burnet.* 

Against this movement, to which Brooke's 
poem already mentioned also pertains, the 
elder Darwin opposed himself, not indeed 
expressly, but for that very reason the more 
efficaciously. He did not inquire how far 
this or that proj^erty of plants or animals 
was directly or indirectly serviceable to man, 
but rather whether particular properties 

* This enumeration of physico-theological writings is derived 
from the elaborate work of G. Zockler, * Gcschichte der Bezie- 
hungen zwischen Theologie und Naturwissenschaft,' Giitcraloh^ 
1877-79. 



152 LIFE OF 

were not useful to tlie organisms themselves, 
and whether it was conceivable that they 
could have acquired such properties as 
favoured their well-being by an internal im- 
pulse and gradual improvement. For a time 
he seems to have addressed to every creature 
that came before him, some such apparently 
curious questions as these : Why does any 
creature have this and no other appearance ? 
Why has this plant poisonous juices ? Why 
has that one spines ? Why have birds and 
fishes light-coloured breasts and dark backs ? 
(fee, &c. The last canto of the first part of 
the * Botanic Garden,' and the second part 
generally, are particularly rich in such 
justly-raised and truly Darwinistic questions. 
We shall have to recur to this point here- 
after, and now, after this digression, return 
once more to the analysis of the ' Botanic 
Garden.' 

In the fourth canto, addressed to the 
sylphs, after some descriptions of winds and 
climates, the author turns to the daughters of 
the air, the plants, and describes their 
economy, in the course of which a great 
number of exceedingly modern remarks are 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 153 

anticipated. In a note to verse 411 (p. 194) 
the digestion of the reserve material in 
the seed-lobes during germination is de- 
scribed as a process perfectly analogous to 
animal digestion, and for some years we have 
been aware that this comparison is justified 
even in its details ; but above all, in tlie 
second part, in which plants are arranged 
in accordance with the sexual system, and 
their several relations especially described in 
separate pictures, that theme of the protec- 
tion of plants from unbidden guests, which 
Kerner three years ago made the subject oi 
an interesting book,* is referred to. 

Here we learn in the first j)lace that the 
waxy and resinous secretions of the green 
parts serve as protections against cold and 
moisture ; and that essential oils, strong- 
odours, and poisons are useful to plants, by 
protecting them from marauding insects and 
other animals. The root of the meadow 
sdi^Ton {Colchicwn autumnale), which does not 
ripen its seeds until the following spring, 
would be in danger of destruction in winter 

♦ 'Die Schiitzmittel der BlUthen gegen unberufene Gaste. 
Vienna, 1876. 



154 LIFE OF 

by animals living in the ground, if it did not 
contain so acrid a poison.* This example of 
a poisonous bulb is particularly instructive, 
because here, in consequence of the seeds 
ripening only in the next period of vegeta- 
tion, the existence of the plant in winter 
would be seriously compromised if the bulb 
were edible. 

The holly {Ilex aquifolium) led Dr. Darwin 
to specially thoughtful considerations in this 
direction ; he speaks of it as follows :t *' Many 
" plants, like many animals, are furnished 
" with arms for their protection ; these are 
" either aculei, prickles, as in rose and bar- 
'' berry, which are formed from the outer 
" bark of the plant ; or spiu^, thorns, as in 
" hawthorn, which are an elongation of the 
" wood, and hence more difficult to be torn 
" off than the former ; or stimuli, stings, as in 
" the nettles, which are armed with a venom- 
" ous fluid for the annoyance of naked 
" animals. The shrubs and trees, which have 
" prickles or thorns, are grateful food to 
" many animals, as goosberry and gorse ; and 

* * The Loves of the Plants,' p. 22, note, 
f Ibid. pp. 18, 19, note. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 155 

** would be quickly devoured, if not thus 
" ai med ; the stings seem a j^rotection against 
" some kinds of insects, as well as the naked 
" mouths of quadrupeds. Many plants lose 
" their thorns by cultivation, as wild animals 
'' lose their ferocity, and some of them their 
" horns. A curious circumstance attends the 
'* large hollies in Needwood Forest ; they are 
'* armed with thorny leaves about eight feet 
'' high, and have smooth leaves above ; as if 
^' they were conscious that horses and cattle 
" could not reach their upper branches." 

On the other hand, that the plants thus 
armed furnish animals with an especially 
dainty food is proved by the fondness of the 
ass for thistles, and of the horse for furze, of 
which the author gives an instructive ex- 
ample in a book which will be noticed here- 
after. He says : " In the extensive moorlands 
" of Staffordshire the horses have learnt to 
'' stamp upon a gorse-bush with one of their 
" fore-feet for a minute together, and when 
'* the points are broken, they eat it without 
" injury ; which is an art other horses in 
** the fertile parts of the country do not 



156 LIFE OF 

" possess, and prick their mouths till they 
" bleed, if they are induced by hunger or 
" caprice to attempt eating gorse." * 

This observer of nature was particularly 
interested in the means possessed by plants 
for preventing the crawling up of wingless 
insects into the flowers. He explained in 
this way the small water-basins which the 
leaves form about the stem of the Fuller's 
Teasel, and which have recently led to a 
remarkable investigation on the part of one 
of his descendants,! as also the larger basins 
which surround the flower stalks of the 
Bromeliacese, as being arrangements destined 
partly to the refreshment of the plants, and 
partly to serve as a protection for its flowers 
and seeds.J A similar protective contrivance 
occurs most instructively in the viscous rings 
of the catchfly, the description of which 
may follow here as a sample of the * Loves 
of the Plants,' with the preliminary remark 
that the numbers relate to the stamens and 

* * Zoonomia/ vol. i. p. 162, sect. xvi. ii. 

f See * Kosmos,' i. p. 354. 

$ * The Loves of the Plants,' p. 37. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 157 

styles in each of these individual descrip- 
tions. 

" The fell Silene and her sisters fair, 
Skiird in destruction, spread the viscous snare. 
The harlot-band ten lofty bravoes screen. 
And frowning guard the magic nets, unseen. 
Haste, glittering nations, tenants of the air. 
Oh, steer from hence your viewless course afar ! 
If with soft words, sweet blushes, nods, and smiles, 
The three dread Syi'ens lure you to their toils. 
Limed by their art in vain you point your stings. 
In Tain the efforts of your whirring wings ! — 
Go, seek your gilded mates and infant hives, 
Nor taste the honey purchas'd with your lives I " 

In a note upon this passage of his poem 
(pp. 15, IG) Darwin remarks : " The viscous 
' material which surrounds the stalks under 
' the flowers of this plant, and of the Cucu- 
' balus Otites, is a curious contrivance to 
' prevent various insects from plundering the 
^ honey, or devouring the seed. In the 
' Dionasa Muscipula there is a still more won- 
' derful contrivance to prevent the depreda- 
*' tions of insects ; the leaves are armed Avith 
^ long teeth, like the antennae of insects, and 
' lie spread upon the ground round the stem ; 
' and are so irritable, that when an insect 
' creeps upon them, they fold up, and crush 



158 LIFE OF 

" or pierce it to death." The same explana- 
tion is satisfactory to him for the capture of 
insects by the leaves of the Sundew (^Drosera), 
at the same time, that both plants had been 
already suspected of using the captured 
insects as food. Diderot, it may be remarked 
in passing, appears to have been the first to 
employ the expression " carnivorous plants ;" 
he said of the Venus' fly-trap (^Dloncea), 
" Yoila une plante presque carnivore."* 

We must dwell a little longer upon the 
investigations of the elder Darwin upon the 
protective arrangements of plants, because 
they explain to us a remarkable error into 
which this acute naturalist fell with respect 
to the secretion of honey in flowers. He 
believed, especially from the last-mentioned 
examples, that plants were generally equipped 
so as to keep insects and other lovers of 
honey away from the flowers ; and he was 
strengthened in this opinion by the circum- 
stance that the source of honey in most 
flowers is very much concealed, and often 
hidden under complex protective contriv- 
ances. He also thought that the resemblance 

* Diderot, CEuvres, ed? d'Assezat, tome xi. p. 227. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 159 

of the flowers of many orchids to insects 
could be best explained by a sort of mimicry. 
His idea, which was very ingenious although 
fallacious, was that they had acquired the 
aspect of flowers already occupied by insects in 
order to be protected from the visits of lovers 
of honey. Thus the flowers of the Fly-Ophrys 
resemble a small wall-bee {Apis ichneumoned) 
so closely that at a small distance they appear 
to be already occupied ; and a South- Ameri- 
can Cypripedium even resembles the bird- 
catching spider, in order to frighten away 
the humming birds, which are so greedy of 
honey.* Although founded on false ex- 
amples, the principle of mimicry is here quite 
correctly expounded, and perhaps for the first 
time. 

The works of Kolreuter f (1761) and 
Sprengel (1793), which explained the contri- 
vances for the allurement of insects, a23pear to 
have been unknown to Darwin, or to have been 
regarded by him as unconvincing, for even in 

* ' The Economy of Vegetation,' p. 201. 

t Dr. Darwin certainly mentions casually the experiments on 
Nicotiana, by which. Kolreuter thought that he had succeeded 
in converting one plant into another, but he only knew of them 
from another book. 



160 LIFE OF 

his last (posthumous) work. ' The Temple of 
Nature,' he speaks of the honey-secretion of 
plants in the same way as in his earliest, writ- 
ings. In a special article,* he endeavours to 
fathom the secret cause of the general and 
abundant secretion of honey by most flowers, 
and arrives at the supposition that it is 
intended to serve as nutriment and as an 
excitant for the sexual organs of the plant, 
for which reason it flows only until fertiliza- 
tion has taken place. He was strengthened 
in this curious error by the circumstance 
that insects usually go in search of honey 
in no other stage of their development 
than at the period of their sexual maturity, 
that is to say, as perfect insects. A " philo- 
sopher " who seems to have accompanied him 
upon this mistaken course, actually supported 
his opinion by the absurd conjecture that 
the first insects had proceeded from a meta- 
morphosis of the honey-loving stamens and 
pistils of the flowers, by their separation 
from the parent plant after the fashion of the 
male flowers of Vallisneria, and " that many 

* • The Economy of Vegetation/ Additional Notes, pp. 107- 
112.. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. IGl 

' other insects have gradually in long process 
' of time been formed from these ; some 

* acquiring wings, others fins, and others 

* claws, from their ceaseless efforts to procure 
' their food, or to secure themselves from injury. 
' He (the philosophic friend) contends that 
' none of these changes are more incompre- 
' hensible than the transformation of tadpoles 

* into frogs, and caterpillars into butter- 
' flies." * 

This error is so instructive and worth 
notice, because it shows us the difficulty of ex- 
plaining a complex natural arrangement, when 
one starts from false premises. Could Dr. 
Darwin, who afterwards wrote so impressively 
upon the mischief of inbreeding, have heard 
from any one the magic words " Benefits of 
*' Cross-fertilization," his error would have 
fallen like scales from his eyes ; but he firmly 
believed that flowers are as far as possil)le 
adapted for self-fertilization, and he stigmatizes 
a case of fertilization by the stamens of other 
flowers, observed by chance in Colli^isotua, 
with the name of '' adultery."t At the same 

* * The Economy of Vegetation,' Additional Notes, p. 109. 
t ' The Economy of Vegetation,' p. 197, note. 



162 LIFE OF 

time the exact adaptation of the honey-seek- 
ing insects to their business did not escape 
him, for in one passage, after describing the 
great care which Nature has taken to hide 
the honey of the honeysuckle at the bottom of 
a long tube (in contrast, incom|)rehensible to 
him, with those flowers in which it lies quite 
exposed), he adds that the proboscis of bees 
and lepidoptera seems to be especially designed 
to reach it in spite of these precautions. " The 
" colouring materials of vegetables, like those 
" which serve the purpose of tanning, var- 
" nishing, and the various medical purposes, 
" do not seem," he says in a note on the 
madder plant,* " essential to the life of the 
" plant ; but seem given it as a defence 
" against insects or other animals, to whom 
" these materials are nauseous or deleterious. 
" The colours of insects and many smaller 
*' animals contribute to conceal them from the 
" larger ones which prey upon them. Cater- 
" pillars which feed on leaves are generally 
" green ; earth-worms the colour of the earth 
" which they inhabit ; butterflies, which fre- 
" quent flowers, are coloured like them ; small 

* * The Loves of the Plants,', p. 38, note. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 163 

" birds which frequent hedges have greenish 
" backs like the leaves, and light coloured 
'' bellies like the sky, and are lience less 
" visible to the hawk, who passes under them 
" or over them. Those birds which are much 
" amongst flowers, as the goldfinch (Fringilla 
" carduelis), are furnished with vivid colours. 
" The lark, partridge, hare, are the colour of 
*' dry vegetables or earth on which they rest. 
•' And frogs vary their colour with the mud of 
" the streams which they frequent ; and those 
" which live on trees are green. Fish, which 
" are generally suspended in water, and 
** swallows, which are generally suspended in 
" air have their backs the colour of the dis- 
" tant ground, and their bellies of the sky. 
" In the colder climates many of these become 
" white during the existence of the snows. 
" Hence there is apparent dasign in the colours 
" of animals, whilst those of vegetables seem 
" consequent to the other properties of the 
" materials which possess them.' 



"* 



* In the numerous works of the last century which treat of 
physico-theology, and especially in those on iusecto-theology, in 
which the existence of a purpose in all the aiTangcmenta of 
Nature was discussed in all senses, there are probably numerous 
examples of phenomena pertaining to " mimicry." Thus Rosol 



164 LIFE OF 

In his chief scientific work, the * Zoono- 
mia,'* to which we now turn, Darwin has also 
sought to fathom the causes at work in these 
colorations, a matter to which we shall revert 
hereafter. The work just mentioned essen- 
tially forms a physiology and psychology of 
man as a foundation for a pathology, but at 
the same time glances are everywhere cast 
over the whole animal world. What rank 
this work may take in the history of physio- 
logy, psychology, and medicine, I cannot 
judge, from want of special knowledge in those 
departments. Upon the author's contempora- 
ries it produced a very considerable impres- 
sion, and was immediately translated into 
German by a physician of note,f and the trans- 
lator points out the wonderful agreement of its 
views with those of a simultaneously published 
work of the celebrated German pathologist 



von Kosenhof, in his * Insekten-Belustigungen" (Niirnberg, 
1746), describes the resemblance which the caterpillars of geo- 
metric moths, and also certain moths when in repose, pi esent to 
dry twigs, and thus conceal themselves, but this group of bio- 
logical phenomena seems to have been first regarded from a more 
general point of view by Dr. Darwin. 

* * Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life.' London, 1794- 
1798. 

t By Hofi-ath J. D. Brandis, in 5 vols. Hanover, 1795-1799. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 166 

Reil; Hufeland also was strongly influenced by 
Darwin. The fundamental idea, it seems to 
me, is that in plants and animals a living force 
is at work, which, endowed in both with sensi- 
bility, is enabled spontaneously to adapt them 
to the circumstances of the outer world, so 
that the assumption of innate ideas, of divinely 
implanted impulses and instincts is rendered 
unnecessary, and even the process of thought 
appears attainable as the legitimate activity 
of a mechanical analysis and combination. 
All kinds of human knowledge originate from 
the senses, the action of which is regarded as 
the chief source of knowledge, and is accord- 
ingly first of all investigated. 

As regards the apparently inborn faculties 
which young animals bring with them into the 
world, the author explains them by repeated 
exertions of the muscles under the guidance 
of the sensations and stimuli. Thus it cannot 
be wonderful that animals are born into the 
world with the faculty of swimming, or of 
walking upon four feet, and of swallowing, 
for they learnt to swim in .the Qgg or in the 
body of the mother, whilst to walk upon two 
feet is for quadrupeds an art which does not 

8 



166 LIFE OF 

belong to nature ; the swallowing of fluids is 
learnt by every foetus, for they all swallow the 
amniotic fluid that surrounds them, and it is 
only the eating of solid matter that requires 
to be afterwards learned. In the learning of 
new things the imitative impulse has most to 
do ; and the fact that man, as Aristotle has 
said, is above all an imitative animal^ fits him 
best for the acquisition of difficult perform- 
ances, — as, for example, of speech. The 
author ascribes this desire of imitation even 
to the smallest constructive parts of the body 
(as we should say, to the cells), and thereby 
explains the simultaneous disease of whole 
complexes of them. The expression of the 
emotions, also, is acquired by imitation, 
although their fundamental conditions are 
organically imposed. 

The author very carefully studied this 
subject, which has been elaborated by his 
grandson with so much success, and deduces 
his formulae especially from the first impres- 
sions of new-born creatures. The trembling 
of fear may perhaps be referred back to 
the cold shivering of the new-born infant; 
and weeping to the first irritation of 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 167 

the- lachrymal glands by cold air, as well 
as by pleasant and disagreeable odours. 
That anger and rage are universally ex- 
pressed by animals taking the position of 
attack, is immediately intelligible. As regards 
smiling and the expression of the agreeable 
sensations, the author' refers them, as well as 
the feeling of the beauty of undulating lines 
and of rounded surfaces, to the pleasure of the 
first nourishment derived from the soft and 
gently rounded maternal breast. " In the 
" action of sucking," he says, " the lips of the 
" infant are closed around the nipple of its 
" mother, till he has filled his stomach, and 
" the pleasure occasioned by the stimulus 
" of this grateful food succeeds. Then the 
" sphincter of the mouth, fatigued by the 
" continued action of sucking, is relaxed ; and 
" the antagonist muscles of the face gently 
" acting, produce the smile of pleasure, as 
" cannot but be seen by all who are conver- 
" sant with children. Hence this smile during 
" our lives is associated with gentle pleasure ; 
" it is visible in kittens, and puppies, when 
" they are played with and tickled ; but more 
" particularly marks the human features. 



168 LIFE OP 

^' For in children this expression of pleasure 
" is much encouraged, by their imitation of 
" their parents, or friends, who generally 
" address them with a smiling countenance : 
" and hence some nations are more remark- 
" able for the gaiety, and others for the 
" gravity of their looks."* 

Similarly the wagging of the tails of 
animals and the purring of cats are referred 
back to certain movements which they acquire 
in the time of their existence as sucklings. 
" Lambs shake or wriggle their tails, at the 
" time when they first suck, to get free of 
'' the hard excrement which had been long 
" lodged in the bowels. Hence this becomes 
" afterwards a mark of pleasure in them, and 
" in dogs, and other tailed animals. But 
" cats gently extend and contract their paws 
" when they are pleased, and purr by draw- 
" ing in their breath, both which resemble 
" their manner of sucking, and thus become 
" their language of pleasure, for these animals 
" having collar-bones, use their paws like 
** hands when they suck, which dogs and 
** sheep do not."f These examples may -"^ 

* ' Zoonomia,' vol. i. xvi. 8, 4. f lb, 8, 3. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 169 

serve to show the author's treatment of this 
diflScult theme. 

The arts and migratory and social in- 
stincts of animals are referred to personal 
consideration and gradual experience of 
advantages to be attained. Here also the 
imitative impulse plays a principal part; 
and if a horse, for example, wishes to be 
scratched in a particular part which he 
cannot reach with his muzzle, he bites his 
neighbour in the spot in question, and the 
latter at once understands the hint and does 
what is required of him. That the arts 
of animals are acquired is proved by the ex- 
ample already adduced of certain horses stamp- 
ing down the spiny furze, which the horses 
of more fertile districts do not understand ; 
and the author also cites many other instances 
of local deviations and innovations in nest- 
building and the construction of burrows. 
Here also we find already mentioned those 
statements which have been frequently made 
of late years, with regard to bees which, in 
certain distant countries (in this case the 
Island of Barbadoes), store up no honey. The 
author regards the artificial skill of bees and 



170 LIFE OP 

ants as very ancient^ seeing tliat it has become 
so perfectly developed. 

It must not, however, be supposed that the 
author regards these instincts as communi- 
cated solely by imitation ; he accepts without 
hesitation the heritability of acquired cor- 
poreal peculiarities and mental faculties. 
Upon these points there is, in the section 
(xxxix.) which treats of generation, and is of 
the greatest importance to us, an introductory 
observation which contains, as in a nutshell, 
the explanation of the biological fundamental 
law, and expresses the same ideas which Mr. 
Samuel Butler last year made the subject of a 
comprehensive book.* " The ingenious Dr. 
" Hartley in his work on man, and some 
" other philosophers," says Darwin, " have 
" been of opinion, that our' immortal part 
" acquires during this life certain habits of 
" action or of sentiment, which become for- 
*' ever indissoluble, continuing afte-r death in 
** a future state of existence ; and add, that if 
" these habits are of the malevolent kind, 
" they must render the possessor miserable 
*' even in heaven. I would apply this ingenious 

' * * Life and Habit.' London, 1878. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 171 

" idea to the generation, or production of the 
" emhryon, or new animal which partakes so 
" much of the form and propensities of the 
" parent r And he continues as follows : 
" Owing to the imperfection of language the 
" offspring is termed a new animal, but is in 
" truth a branch or elongation of the parent ; 
** since a part of the embry on-animal is, or 
'* was, a part of the parent ; and therefore in 
" strict language it cannot be said to be 
" entirely new at the time of its production ; 
" and therefore it may retain some of the 
^* habits of the parent-system."* 

It may be observed that the author speaks 
here only of one parent ; this is because he 
supposed that the embryo consists of the 
spermatozoid produced by the father, which 
in the mother finds little more than a suitable 
nutritive fluid, and a nidus in which it can 
develop itself into a perfect animal. The 
resemblance of the newly produced creature to 
the- mother may be explained by the influence 
of the nutritive material furnished by her. 
Leaving out of consideration this easily ex- 
cusable, and, in itself, unimportant error 

* * Zoonomia,' xxxix. 1. 



172 LIFE OP 

(which I was obliged to mention only because 
the author always speaks of a "filament," 
instead of the egg as the germ of the living 
creature), the. author now, with the greatest 
acumen, maintains the theory of epigenesis in 
opposition to the theory of evolution (in the 
older sense), showing that every creature is a 
complete new formation, which, with each grade 
of development attained by it, develops other 
formative impulses, and thus can incorporate 
with its own essence even the latest acquisi- 
tions of its parents,- by virtue of the faculty of 
recollection possessed by the embryo. The 
old theory of enclosure could not explain such 
innovations in the domain of life, and against 
it Dr. Darwin therefore turned with lively 
sarcasm. " Many ingenious philosophers," 
he says, '' have found so great difficulty in 
" conceiving the manner of the reproduction 
'* of animals, that they have supposed all the 
" numerous progeny to have existed in minia- 
" ture in the animal originally created ; and 
" that these infinitely minute forms are only 
" evolved or distended, as the embryon in- 
" creases in the womb. This idea, besides its 
" being unsupported by any analogy we are 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 173 

" acquainted with, ascribes a greater tenuity 
" to organized matter than we can readily 
'* admit ; as these included embryons are sup- 
" posed each of them to consist of the various 
" and complicate parts of animal bodies : they 
" must possess a much greater degree of 
" minuteness, than that which was ascribed 
" to the devils that tempted St. Anthony ; 
" of whom 20,000 were said to be able 
" to dance a saraband on the point of the 
*•' finest needle without incommoding each 
" other." * 

In the eighth paragraph of the fourth part 
of this same section the author gives a short 
sketch of the theory of evolution, which, how- 
ever, must have been more clearly developed 
in his mind. I reproduce it here, with some 
abridgments, because in it, fifteen years before 
the appearance of Lamarck's ' Philosophle 
Zoologique,' the principles of evolution were 
completely set forth. Darwin says, " When 
" we revolve in our minds, first, the great 
'^ changes, which we see naturally produced 
" in animals after their nativity, as in the 
'^ production of Ihe butterfly with painted 

* * Zoonomia/ vol. i. § xxxix. iii. 1. 



174 LIFE OF 

" wings from the crawling caiterpillar ; or of 
" the respiring frog from the subnatant tad- 
" pole ; from the feminine boy to the bearded 

" man 

" Secondly, when we think over the great 
" changes introduced into various animals by 
" artificial or accidental cultivation, as in 
" horses, which we have exercised for the 
" different purposes of strength or swiftness, 
" in carrying burthens or in running races ; 
"or in dogs, which have been cultivated for 
" strength and courage, as the bull-dog ; or 
*' for acuteness of his sense of smell, as the 
" hound and spaniel ; or for the swiftness of his 
" foot as the greyhound ; or for his swimming 
" in the water, or for drawing snow-sledges, 

" the rough-haired dogs of the north ; 

" and add to these the great changes of shape 
" and colour, which we daily see produced in 
" smaller animals from our domestication of 
" them, as rabbits, or pidgeons ; or from the 
" difference of climates, and even of seasons ; 
" thus the sheep of warm climates are covered 
'^ with hair instead of wool ; and the hares and 
'\ partridges of the latitudes which are long 
'' buried in snow, become white during the 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 175 

'' winter montlis ; add to these the various 
** changes produced in the forms of mankind 
" by their early modes of exertion ; or by the 
" diseases occasioned by their habits of life ; 
*' both of which become hereditary, and that 
" through many generations. Those who 
" labour at the anvil, the oar, or the loom, as 
" well as those who carry sedan-chairs, or 
" those who have been educated to dance 
" upon the rope, are distinguishable by the 

" shape of their limbs 

"Thirdly, when we enumerate the great 
*' changes produced in the species of animals 
" before their nativity ; these are such as 
" resemble the form or colour of their parents, 
" which have been altered by the cultivation 
" or accidents above related, and are thus 
" continued to their posterity. Or they are 
" changes produced by the mixture of species, 
" as in mules ; or changes produced probably 
" by the exuberance of nourishment supplied 
" to the fetus, as in monstrous births with 
" additional limbs ; many of these enormities 
'* of shape are propagated, and continued as 
*' a variety at least, if not as a new species 



176 LIFE OP 

of animal. I have seen a breed of cats 
with an additional claw on every foot ; of 
poultry also with an additional claw, and 
with wings to their feet ; and of others 
without rumps. Mr. Buffon mentions a 
breed of dogs without tails, which are 
common at E-ome and at Naples, which he 
supposes to have been produced by a 
custom long established of cutting their 
tails close off. There are many kinds of 
pidgeons, admired for their peculiarities, 
which are monsters thus produced and 
propagated. . . . When we consider all 
these changes of animal form, and innumer- 
able others, which may be collected from the 
books of natural history ; we cannot but be 
convinced, that the fetus or erabryon is 
formed by apposition of new parts, and not 
by the distention of a primordial nest of 
germs included one within another like the 
cups of a, conjurer. 

" Fourthly, when we revolve in our minds 
the great similarity of structure which 
obtains in all the warm-blooded animals, as 
well quadrupeds, birds, and amphibious 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 177 

" animals, as in mankind ; from the monse 
** and bat to the elephant and whale ; one is 
" led to conclude, that they have alike been 
*^ produced from a similar living filament. 
" In some this filament in its advance to 
'* maturity has acquired hands and fingers, 
"with a fine sense of touch, as in mankind. 
" In others it has acquired claws or talons 
" ... in others toes with an intervening 
*' web, or membrane ... in others it has 
'* acquired cloven hoofs ... and whole hoofs 
" in others . . . while in the bird kind this 
" original living filament has put forth wings 
" instead of arms or legs, and feathers instead 
" of hair. In some it has protruded horns on 
" the forehead instead of teeth in the fore part 
" of the upper jaw ; in others tushes instead of 
" horns ; and in others beaks instead of either. 
" And all this exactly is daily seen in the 
" transmutations of the tadpole, which acquires 
*' legs and lungs when he wants them ; and 
" loses his tail when it is no longer of service 
" to him. 

" Fifthly, from their first rudiment, or pri- 
" mordium, to the termination of their lives, 
" all animals undergo perpetual transforma- 



178 LIFE OF 

tions, whicli are in part produced by their 
own exertions in consequence of their 
desires and aversions, of their pleasures and 
pains, or of irritations, or of associations; 
and many of these acquired forms or 
propensities are transmitted to their pos- 
terity. 

** As air and water are supplied to animals 
in sufficient profusion, the three great objects 
of desire, which have changed the forms of 
many animals by their exertions to gratify 
them, are those of lust, hunger, and security. 
A great want of one part of the animal 
world has consisted in the desire of the 
exclusive possession of the females; and 
these have acquired weapons to combat 
each other for this purpose, as the very 
thick, shield-like, horny skin on the 
shoulder of the boar is a defence only 
against animals of his own species, who 
strike obliquely upwards, nor are his tushes 
for other purposes, except to defend himself, 
as he is not naturally a carnivorous animal. 
So the horns of the stag are sharp to offend 
his adversary, but are branched for the 
purpose of parrying or receiviug the thrusts 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 179 

" of horns similar to his own, and have, 
" therefore, been formed for the purpose of 
" combating other stags for the exclusive 
" possession of the females ; who are observed, 
" like the ladies in the time of chivalry, to 
** attend the car of the victor. 

" The birds which do not carry food to their 
" young, and do not therefore marry, are 
" armed with spurs for the purpose of fight- 
'* ing for the exclusive possession of the 
" females, as cocks and quails. It is certain 
" that these weapons are not provided for 
" their defence against other adversaries, 
** because the females of these species are 
" without this armour. The final cause of this 
" contest amongst the males seems to be, that the 
*' strongest and most active animal should pro- 
^^ pagate the species, which should thence become 
** improved, 

" Another great want consists in the means 
" of procuring food, which has diversified the 
'' forms of all species of animals. Thus the 
" nose of the swine has become hard for the 
" purpose of turning up the soil in search of 
** insects and of roots. The trunk of the 
" elephant is an elongation of the nose for the 



180 LIFE OF 

" purpose of pulling down the branches of 
'* trees for his food, and for taking up water 
•* without bending his knees. Beasts of prey 
" have acquired strong jaws or talons. Cattle 
'* have acquired a rough tongue and a rough 
" palate to pull off the blades of grass. , . . 
" Some birds have acquired harder beaks to 
'' crack nuts, as the parrot. Others have 
•' acquired beaks adapted to break the harder 
** seeds, as sparrows. Others for the softer 
'' seeds of flowers, or the buds of trees, as the 
'* finches. Other birds have acquired long 
" beaks to penetrate the moister soils in search 
" of insects or roots, as woodcocks, and others 
" broad ones to filtrate the water of lakes, and 
" to retain aquatic insects. All which seem to 
" Iiave been gi^adually produced during many 
" generations .by the perpetual endeavour of the 
*' creatures to supply the want of food^ and to 
" have been delivered to their posterity with 
" constant improvement of them for the purpose 
" required, 

"The third great want among animals is 
" that of security, which seems much to have 
** diversified the forms of their bodies and the 
^' colour of them ; these consist in the means 



ERASMUS DARWIN-. 181 

" of escaping other animals more powerful 
" than themselves.* Hence some animals 

* The question here only touched upon is discussed in detail 
by the author in another part of the * ZooQomia ' (§ xxxix. 5, 1) 
in the following words : — 

" The efficient cause of the various colours of the eggs of birds, 
and of the hair and feathers of animals, is a subject so curious, 
that I shall beg to introduce it in this place. The colours of 
many animals seem adapted to their purposes of concealing 
themselves, either to avoid danger, or to spring upon their prey. 
Thus the snake, and wild cat, and leopard, are so coloured as to 
resemble dark leaves and their lighter interstices ; birds resemble 
the colour of the brown ground, or the green hedges, which they 
frequent ; and moths and butterflies are coloured like the flowers 

which they rob of their honey These coloui-s have, 

however, in some instances, another use, as in the black diverging 
area from tbe eyes of the swan ; which, as his eyes are placed 
less prominent than those of other birds, for the convenience of 
putting down his head under water, prevents the rays of light 
from being reflected into his eye, and thus dazzling his sight, 
both in air and beneath the water ; which must have happened, 
if that surface had been white like the rest of his feathers. 

" There is a still more wonderful thing concerning these 
colours adapted to the purpose of concealment ; which is, that 
the eggs of birds are so coloured as to resemble the colour of the 
adjacent objects and their interstices. The eggs of hedge-birds 
are greenish, with dark spots ; those of crows and magpies, 
which are seen from beneath through wicker nests, are white 
with dark spots ; and those of larks and partridges are russet or 
brown, like their nests or situations. 

" A thing still more astonishing is, that many animals in 
countries covered with snow become white in %vinter, and are 
said to change their colour again in the warmer months. . . . 
The final cause of these colours is easily understood, as they 
serve some purposes of the animal, but the efficient cause would 
seem almost beyond conjectm*e." 

The author endeavoured, however, to clear the way towards 



182 LIFE OP 

'* have acquired wings instead of legs, as the 
" smaller birds, for the purpose of escape; 
'^ others great length of fin or of membrane, 
" as the flying fish, and the bat. Others great 
" swiftness of foot as the hare. Others have 
*' acquired hard or armed shells, as the tortoise 
*' and the echinus marinus. 

" The contrivances for the purposes of 
'* security extend even to vegetables, as is 
^' seen in the wonderful and various means of 



an explanation by saying that the impression of the constant 
white light of the snow, or of the yellow of the desert, or of the 
green of the woods, might be transferred by reflex action from 
the retina to the external papiilse of the skin and its coverings ; 
"and thus, like the fable of the camelion, all animals may 
possess a tendency to be coloured somewhat like the colours 
they most frequently inspect, and finally, that colours may be 
thus given to the egg-shell by the imagination of the female 
parent." This supposition has lately been proved to be perfectly 
correct with respect to certain fishes, amphibia, reptiles, and 
moUusca, which always suit themselves to their lighter or darker 
surroundings (see Seidlitz, Die chromatische Funhtion ah 
natiirliches Schutzmittelj in his ' Beitrdge zur Descendenz- 
Theorie.^ Leipzig, 1876) ; but it does not sufiSce for the constant 
colorations, notwithstanding the similar hypotheses put forward 
by Wallace and others (see Kosmos, iv. p. 120), nor did it by 
any means satisfy the elder Darwin, as appears from his further 
remarks that the uniformity of the effect would indicate some 
other general cause, still to be made out. This cause lies in 
natural selection, and the reticence of the elder Darwin in the 
face of these circumstances, is the best proof how imperfect any 
theory of evolution remains without this principle. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 183 

" their concealing or defending their honey 
** from insects, and their seeds from birds. 
" On the other hand, swiftness of wing has 
" been acquired by hawks and swallows to 
" pursue their prey ; and a proboscis of 
" admirable structure has been acquired by 
" the bee^ the moth, and the humming bird, for 
" the purpose of plundering the nectaries of 
" flowers. All which seem to have been formed 
" by the original living filament, excited into 
" action by the necessities of the creatures, 
" which possess them, and on which their 
^' existence depends. 

"From thus meditating on the great 
" similarity of the structure of the warm- 
'^ blooded animals, and at the same time of 
" the great changes they undergo both before 
" and after their nativity ; and by considering 
" in how minute a portion of time many of 
" the changes of animals above described have 
" been produced ; would it be too bold to 
** imagine, that in the great length of time, 
" since the earth began to exist, perhaps 
" millions of ages before the commencement 
" of the history of mankind, would it be too 
" bold to imagine, that all warm - blooded 



184 LIFE OF 

* animals have arisen from one living filament 
' which THE Great First Cause endued with 

* animality, with the power of acquiring new 

* parts, attended with new propensities, 
' directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, 

* and associations ; and thus possessing the 

* faculty of continuing to improve by its own 
inherent activity, and of delivering down 

' those improvements by generation to its 

' posterity, world without end !" 

It might be doubted, the author goes on to 
say, whether the fishes, which have fins 
instead of feet or wings, are of the same 
blood as the warm-blooded animals ; but 
whales^ seals, and above all the frog, which 
becomes transformed from a fish-like aquatic 
animal into an aerial quadruped furnished 
with lungs, show that there is no separation 
here. On the other hand the insects have 
evidently proceeded from a different living 
filament, as also the Linnean class of Vermes, 
to which sponges, corals, molluscs, &c., were 
referred. The same must be supposed with 
regard to plants, which the author, like Gothe, 
regarded as composite individuals, comparable 
to coral stocks. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 185 

"Linnaeus supposes," continues Darwin, 
" in the Introduction to his ' Natural Orders,' 
" that very few vegetables were at first created, 
" and that their numbers were increased by 
*' their intermarriages, and adds, suadent hcec 
" creatoris leges a simplicihus ad composita. 
" Many other changes seem to have arisen in 
•* them by their perpetual contest for light 
^* and air above ground, and for food and 
" moisture beneath the soil . . . from climate, 
" or other causes. From these one might 
" be led to imagine, that each plant at first 
" consisted of a single bulb or flower to each 
" root, as the gentianella and daisy ;* and that 
" in the contest for air and light new buds 
'' grew on the old decaying flower stem, 
" shooting down their elongated roots to the 
" ground, and that in process of ages tall 
" trees were thus formed, and an individual 
" bulb became a swarm of vegetables. Other 
^' plants, which in this contest for light and 
" air were too slender to rise by their own 
" strength, learned by degrees to adhere to 
" their neighbours, either by jDutting forth 
" roots like the ivy, or by tendrils like the 
" vine, or by spiral contortions like the honey- 



186 LIFE OF 

** suckle ; or by growing upon them like the 
" misleto, and taking nourishment from their 
** barks ; or by only lodging or adhering on 
" them, and deriving nourishment from the 
" air, as tillandsia.* 

" Shall we then say that the vegetable 
" living filament was originally different from 
" that of each tribe of animals above- 
" described ? And that the productive living 
'* filament of each of those tribes was different 
" originally from the other ? Or, as the 
•' earth and ocean were probably peopled with 
" vegetable productions long before the exis- 
*' tence of animals ; and many families of 
" these animals long before other families of 
" them, shall we conjecture that one and the 
" same kind* of living filaments is and has 
" been the cause of all organic life ? " 

[Here the author refers to the supposition 
that America is perhaps the youngest part of 

* In his multifarious investigations upon the means of dif- 
fusion of the seeds of plants, by wind, flying and projectile con- 
trivances, hooks, fur-animals and birds, he mentions with the 
greatest admiration the seeds of Tillandsia^ which never germi- 
nate on the ground. They are provided on their crown with 
numerous long filaments, by means of which they fly upon the 
winds like spiders, until the threads catch upon the branch of a 
tree, and fix the genu there. (* The Loves of the Plants,' p. 60.) 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 187 

the world, as its inhabitants have not yet ad- 
vanced so far in inteHigence as those of the 
Old World, and its animals {e.g, alligators 
and tigers) are smaller and weaker. More- 
over, the mountains there are higher and less 
weathered than ours. That the great lakes of 
North America are not yet salt, may be ex- 
plained by their outflow.] 

" This idea of the gradual formation and 
^* improvement of the animal world," he goes 
on to say, ** seems not to have been unknown 
*' to the ancient philosophers. Plato, having 
" probably observed the reciprocal generation 
^* of inferior animals, as snails and worms, 
*' was of opinion that mankind with all other 
" animals were originally hermaphrodites 
" during the infancy of the world, and were 
" in process of time separated into male and 
" female. The breasts and teats of all male 
" quadrupeds, to which no use can be now 
*' assigned, adds perhaps some shadow of 
" probability to this opinion. Linnaeus ex- 
*^ cepts the horse from the male quadrupeds, 
** who have teats ; which might have shown 
" the earlier origin of his existence ; but 
" Mr. J. Hunter asserts, that he has discovered 



188 LIFE OF 

" the vestiges of them .... and has at the 
" same time enriched natural history with a 
" very curious fact concerning the male 
" pidgeon ; at the time of hatching the eggs 
*' both the male and female pidgeon undergo a 
" great change in their crops, which thicken 
" and become corrugated, and secrete a kind 
" of milky fluid, which coagulates, and with 
" which alone for a few days they feed their 
" young, and afterwards feed them with this 
" coagulated fluid mixed with other food. 
" How this resembles the breasts of female 
" quadrupeds after the production of their 
" young ! and how extraordinary, that the 
*' male should at this time give milk as well 
" as the female ! 

" The late Mr. David Hume, in his posthu- 
" mous works, places the powers of genera- 
*' tion much above those of our boasted 
" reason ; and adds, that reason can only 
" make a machine, as a clock or a ship, but 
" the power of generation makes the maker 
'' of the machine ; and probably from having 
" observed, that the greatest part of the earth 
" has been formed out of organic recrements 
" .... he concludes that the world itself 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 189 



fc 



might have been generated rather than 
** created ; that is, it might have been pro- 
" duced from very small beginnings, increas- 
" ing by the activity of its inherent principles, 
" rather than by a sudden evolution of the 
' whole by the Almighty fiat. — What a mag 
*' nificent idea of the infinite power of the 
'' Great Architect ! The Cause of Causes ! 
^' Parent of Parents ! Ens Entium ! 

*' For if • we may compare infinities, it 
*' would seem to require a greater infinity of 
'^ power to cause the causes of effects, than to 
" cause the effects themselves. This idea is 
" analogous to the improving excellence 
" observable in every part of the creation ; 
" such as in the progressive increase of the 
" solid or habitable parts of the earth from 
" water ; and in the progressive increase of 
" the wisdom and happiness of its inhabit- 
'* ants; and is consonant to the idea of our 
" present situation being a state of probation, 
" which by our exertions we may improve, 
'' and are consequejitly responsible for our 
" actions/' 

No one can avoid admitting that in these 
considerations, published in 1794, a clear ex- 

9 



190 LIFE OP 

position is already given of the consequences 
of the action of use in its application to the 
theory of descent, and therefore of what is 
UDJustly called Lamarckism. To Lamarck is 
to be ascribed the great merit of a further 
elaboration of these ideas, but their true 
originator and first promulgator appears to 
have been the elder Darwin. AVith the most 
perfect certainty we also at the same time 
have the principles of a theory of sexual 

m 

selection laid down, as far as the consequence 
that the strongest male will preferently pro- 
pagate, that is to say, within the same limits 
in which alone Mantegazza and Wallace are 
willing to recognise sexual selection. The 
theory of protective coloration is extended to 
the eggs of birds, a discovery which has of 
late frequently been ascribed to Wallace. 
Moreover it deserves to be indicated that 
Darwin regards sexual reproduction as a 
principal condition of the advancement of 
living creatures, as is also the case with 
many modern naturalists'. It is probable, he 
says, " that if vegetables could only have 
"been produced by buds and bulbs, and not 
" by sexual generation, that there would not 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 191 

^' at this time have existed one thousandth 
" part of their present number of species ; 
" which have probably been originally mule- 
** productions ; nor could any kind of im- 
" provements or change have happened to 
" them, except by the difference of soil or 
" climate."* 

Dr. Darwin believed, moreover, with the 
physicians of the last century, that the 
imagination of the parents being directed to 
certain definite ideals might exert a beneficial 
influence upon the young, which would be 
impossible in asexual propagation. In a 
similar sense the adherents of Geoffroy's 
school afterwards thought that the changes of 
the world and of the surrounding medium 
must have acted more powerfully upon the 
plastic embryo than upon the already mature 
creature. 

A few years after the ' Zoonomia,' Darwin 
published his ' Phytologia,'f in which we also 
find many coincidences with the investiga- 

* * Zoonomia,' vol. i. xxxix. G, 2. 

f ' Phytologia ; or, the philosophy of agriculture and gardening, 
with the theory of draining morasses, and with an improved 
construction of the drill plough.' London, Johnson, 1800. In 
German by Hebenstreit, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1801. 



192 LIFE OF 

tions of his grandson, esj^ecially with regard 
to artificial selection. Nevertheless we need 
not here go into it in detail, as his concep- 
tion of the' vegetable world has already been 
sufficiently explained in its main features in 
connection with the * Botanic Garden ' and 
the * Zoonomia/ whilst some notice will have 
to be given to it in the consideration of his 
last work and the general criticism of his 
system. 

*The Temple of Nature,'* dated at the 
Priory, near Derby, on the 1st of January, 
1802, was published in the year following the 
death of the poet in a quarto volume, adorned, 
like the ' Botanic Garden,' with fine en- 
gravings. It is also a didactic poem, a repre- 
sentation in florid verses of his conception of 
the universe, fully matured during an inter- 
val of ten years. In our rapid analysis we 
can of course only refer to the novel points of 
the poem. 

In the first canto, which deals with the 
production of life, &c., we find a decided 
insistance on the hypothesis of a Generatio 

* * The Temple of Nature ; or, the Origin of Society.' A Poem. 
London, 1803. In German by Kraus. Brunswick, 1808, 8vo. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 193 

cequivoca, the necessity of whicli he maintains 
in -a note occupying ten quarto pages. In 
the 'Phytologia' Darwin had set up the 
hypothesis that the most ancient plants. and 
animals had been destitute of sex, and that 
the first sexual organs were formed only at a 
later period. The asexual propagation of 
many plants and animals, such as the 
Aphides, which periodically alternates with 
sexual generation, are reminiscences of this 
asexual state, and if we then go back still 
further we arrive necessarily at the hypo- 
thesis of spontaneous production : — 

" Hence without parent by spontaneous birth 
Rise the first specks of animated earth." 

The examples which he adduces as probable 
occurrences of spontaneous generation at the 
present day, such as Priestley's green matter, 
moulds and other fungi, &c., are certainly not 
very seductive to an unbeliever, but the 
acceptance of this hypothesis ought now-a- 
days to meet with fewer difficulties than that 
of the rival hypothesis of eternal cosmical life. 
As a matter of course^ as the author remarks, 
we must only assume spontaneous generation 



194 LIFE OF 

for the simplest creatures of all ; all the 
higher forms must have been gradually pro- 
duced from these. This first life originated 
in the '* shoreless " sea : — 

" Organic life beneath the shoreless "waves 
Was born, and nurs'd in ocean's pearJy caves ; 
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass. 
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass ; 
These, as successive generations bloom. 
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume ; 
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring. 
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing." 

In the continuation of these verses (lines 
295-302) the author recalls to mind that the 
higher animals, and even "the image of 
God," commence their course of life as micro- 
scopic creatures and points : — 

" Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd, 
Of language, reason, and reflection proud. 
With brow erect who scorns this earthy sod, 
And styles himself the image of his God ; 
Arose from rudiments of form and sense, 
An embryon point, or microscopic ens ! " 

Then, when mountains upheaved by the 
central fire, or coral reefs^ first rose above the 
surface of the boundless sea, individual living 
organisms landed upon them, and passing 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 195 

througli an amphibious condition, became 
aerial creatures. " After islands or continents 
" were raised above the primeval ocean," he 
says, in a note on p. 29, "great numbers of 
" the most simple animals would attempt to 
" seek food at the edges or shores of the new 
** land, and might thence gradually become 
'' amphibious ; as is now seen in the frog, 
" who changes from an aquatic animal to an 
"" amphibious one ; and in the gnat, which 
" changes from a natant to a volant state. 
" . . . . Those [organisms] situated on dry 
** land and immersed in dry air, may gradually 
" acquire new powers to preserve their exist- 
" ence ; and by innumerable successive repro- 
" ductions for some thousands, or perhaps 
" millions of ages, may at length have pro- 
" duced many of the vegetable and animal 
"inhabitants which people the earth." As 
the water-nut {Trapa ndtans) and many other 
water plants, possess finely divided aquatic 
leaves, which may be compared with the gills 
of animals, and also but little divided aerial 
leaves, comparable to the lungs, so does the 
frog lose its gills and become instead of a fish- 
like aquatic animal, an air-breathing quad- 



196 LIFE OF 

ruped. But even the higher animals in their 
embryonic development in the egg or the 
body of the mother point towards this origin 
from humidity. 

" Still Nature's births enclosed in egg or seed 
From the tall forest to the lowly weed, 
Her beanx and beauties, butterflies and -worms, 
Eise from aquatic to aerial forms. 
Thus in the womb the nascent infant layes 
Its natant form in the circumfluent waves ; 
With perforated heart unbreathing swims. 
Awakes and stretches all its recent limbs ; 
With gills placental seeks the arterial flood. 
And drinks pure ether from its mother's blood." 

(Canto i. 1. 385-394) 

In the first canto the poet siugs of the 
original production of life ; the second has the 
'* Reproduction of Life " for its subject. In a 
note upon this canto a question comes under 
discussion for the first time in the works of 
the elder Darwin, which his celebrated grand- 
son first settled experimentally, and one of 
his great-grandsons (George Darwin) has 
made the subject of thorough investigation, 
namely the advantage of cross-fertilization 
and the mischief of inbreeding. 

Dr. Darwin says : — " It may be probably 
" useful occasionally to intermix seeds from 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 197 

^^ different situations together ; as the anther- 
" dust is liable to pass from one plant to 
" another in its vicinity ; and by these means 
*^ the new seeds or plants may be amended, 
" like the marriages of animals into different 
" families. 

" As the sexual progeny of vegetables are 
" thus less liable to hereditary diseases than 
" the solitary progenies, so it is reasonable 
" to conclude, that the sexual progenies of 
" animals may be less liable to hereditary 
" diseases, if the marriages are into different 
" families, than if into the same family ; this 
" has long been supposed to be true, by those 
" who breed animals for sale ; since if the 
*' male and female be of different tempera- 
" ments, as these are extremes of the animal 
" system, the}^ may counteract each other ; 
'* and certainly where both parents are of 
" families, which are afflicted with the same 
'' hereditary disease, it is more likely to 
" descend to their posterity. . . . Finally the 
" art to improve the sexual progeny of either 
** vegetables or animals must consist in 
" choosing the most perfect of both sexes, 
" that is the most beautiful in respect to the 



198 LIFE OF 

' body, and the most ingenious in respect to 
' the mind ; but where one sex is given, 
* whether male or female, to improve a progeny 
^ from that person may consist in choosing a 
' partner of a contrary temperament. As 
^ many families become gradually extinct 
' by hereditary diseases, as by scrofula, 
' consumption, epilepsy, mania, it is often 
' hazardous to marry an heiress, as she is 
' not unfrequently the last of a diseased 
' family."* 

His great grandson, George Darwin, has 
attempted to demonstrate by statistics these 
suppositions, which indeed have been often 
expressed, but found that in man no great 
injury could be ascertained statistically to 
be produced by family marriages, probably 
in consequence of the very different condi- 
tions under which cousins are frequently 
brought up. 

We now pass over a hundred verses, and see 
what the author has to s'^y in a note on the 
Origin of Man. *'It has been supposed by 
" some," he says, 'Hhat mankind were formerly 
" quadrupeds as well as hermaphrodites ; and 

♦ * Temple of Nature,* Additional Notes, pp. 44, 45, 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 199 

" that some parts of the body are not yet so 
** convenient to an. erect attitude as to a hori- 
" zontal one ; as the fundus of the bladder 
"in an erect posture is not exactly over the 
*' insertion of the urethra; whence it is sel- 
*' dom completely evacuated, and thus renders 
" mankind more subject to the stone, than if 
" he had preserved his horizontality ; these 
" philosophers, with Buffon and He^vetius, 
'* seem to imagine that mankind arose from 
" one family of monkeys on the banks of the 
" Mediterranean ; who accidentally had learned 
" to use the adductor poUicis, or that strong 
" muscle which constitutes the ball of the 
" thumb, and draws the point of it to meet 
" the points of the fingers ; which common 
" monkeys do not ; and that this muscle gradu- 
" ally increased in size, strength, and activity, 
*^ in successive generations ; and by this im- 
" proved use of the sense of touch, that 
" monkeys acquired clear ideas, and gradually 
" became men."* 

The great part performed by the hand and 
its improved sense of touch is specially de- 
scribed in the third canto, which is devoted 

* * Temple of Nature,' note p. 54. 



200 LIFE OF 

to the development and progress of the human 
mind. Animals excel man in being endowed 
with many kinds of weapons and in having 
the senses more highly developed, but the 
influence of the hand in forming the mind 
more than compensates for all : — 

" Proud man alone in wailing weakness bom, 
No homs protect him, and no plumes adorn ; 
No finer powers of nostril, ear, or eye, 
Teach the young Reasoner to pursue or fly. — 
Nerved with fine touch above the bestial throngs. 
The hand, first gift of Heaven ! to man belongs ; 
Untipt with claws the circling fingers close. 
With rival points the bending thumbs oppose, 
Trace the nice lines of Form with sense refined, 
And clear ideas charm the thinking mind. 
Whence the fine organs of the touch impart 
Ideal figure, source of every art ; 
Time, motion, number, sunshine or the storm. 
But mark varieties in Nature's /orm." 

(Canto iii. 1. 117-130.) 

In young dogs, adds the author, the 
lips are the principal organs which enable 
them to acquire an idea of the forms of 
things ; and in young children also the lips 
play a great part in the same way. He then 
describes very fully the functions of the im- 
pulse of imitation in man, attributing to it 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 201 

the first origin of all moral actions, languages 
and arts. 

The " Muse of Mimicry," as Darwin, in what 
follows, repeatedly calls the love of imitation in 
man, gave rise especially in his opinion to the 
first language, and the first writing, which 
was a picture-writing. 

On the problem of the origin of language, 
the learned Lord Monboddo's anonymously 
published work (' Of the Origin and Progress 
of Language '), in three volumes, had at that 
time been in existence for a quarter of a 
century. In this book he shows, by the study 
of animals and deaf-mutes, in opposition to 
recent observers, that without speech it is 
possible to think and to form ideas, for speech- 
less animals manifestly have ideas (vol. i. 
p. 217 et seq.). Signs and musically varied 
cries formed the commencement (i. p. 476). 
Articulation was acquired by imitation of 
natural sounds, e.g. the voices of birds 
(v. p. 490). Even such new conceptions as 
that of A. Maurer, that primitive speech was 
formed not by monosyllabic but polysyllabic 
words, are already to be found here (i. pp. 507 
et seq,). It is decidedly much to be wished 



202 LIFE OF 

that some philologist would analyse this for- 
gotten book from the modern standpoint. We 
are not sufficiently skilled to examine how 
much novelty there may be in Dr. Darwin's 
studies in this department, and must content 
ourselves with calling attention to the detailed 
considerations which he gives in his notes, in 
connection with which we may here reproduce 
one of^the most characteristic passages in the 
poem : — 

" When strong desires or soft sensations move 
The astonished Intellect to rage or love ; 
Associate tribes of fibrous motions rise, 
Flush the red cheek, or light the laughing eyes. 
Whence ever-active Imitation finds 
The ideal trains, that pass in kindred minds ; 
Her mimic arts associate thoughts excite 
And the first Language enters at the sight." 

(Canto iii. 1. 335-342.) 

After showing how true language has 
originated from the language of the emotions 
and gestures, from the first exclamations, 

(" Association's mystic power combines 
Internal passions •with external signs.") 

he traces tbe accentuation and articulation 
of sounds, the formation of fundamental 
words and abstract ideas, the growth of 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 203 

intellect intimately connected with these pro- 
cesses, and the origin of the social virtues or 
general morality founded upon social inter- 
course. The fundamental principle of the 
latter is best expressed in the words of Christ, 
" Love thy neighbour as thyself." 

The fourth canto^ entitled "Of Good and 
Evil," represents the spiritual as a stage of 
development of the material world, the sum of 
the happiness and evil therein. About the 
first hundred verses are devoted to a descrip- 
tion of the pitiless struggle for existence 
which rages in the air, on the earth, and in 
the water, making the earth, with its inces- 
santly warring inhabitants, like a vast 
slaughter-house : — 

" Air, earth, and ocean, to astonish'd day 
One scene of blood, one mighty tomb display ! 
From Hunger's arm the shafts of Death are hurl'd, 
And one great Slaughter-house the warring world ! " 

(Canto iv. 1. 63-66.) 

This description is no mere passing notion, 
for in his first didactic poem, * The Botanic 
Grarden,' written at least twenty years 
before, this same idea occurs (p. 28). Dr. 
Balguy had indicated the benefits with which 
the great Author of all things had favoured 



204 LIFE OP 

the world. The young animal takes the 
mother's breast with pleasure, and the mother 
has pleasure in offering it. The seeds of 
plants, rich in nutritive material, serve animals 
for food without themselves feeling pain. 
Against this much too rose-coloured conception 
of the world, our author protested at the time. 
The lion devours the lamb, and the latter 
the living plants, whilst man eats both ; there 
is nothing like peace in nature. In his last 
work this conception appears to have been 
much deepened ; not only do animals destroy 
each other and plants, but even the plants 
struggle among themselves for soil, moisture, 
air, and light : — 

" Y(^ ! smiling Flora drives her armed car 
Throtigli the thick ranks of yegetable war ; 
Herb, shrub, and tree with strong emotions rise 
For light and air, and battle in the skies ; 
Whose roots diverging with opposing toil 
Contend below for moisture and for soil ; 
Eound the tall Elm the fluttering Ivies bend. 
And strangle, as they clasp, their stmggling friend ; 
Envenom'd dews from Mancinella flow, 
And scald with caustic touch the tribes below ; 
Dense shadowy leaves on stems aspiring borne 
With blight and mildew thin the realms of com ; 
And insect hordes with restless tooth devour 
The unfolded bud, and pierce the ravelFd flower." 

(Canto iv. 1. 41-54.) 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 205 

Fortunately living creatures often struggle 
with each other for the advantage of a third 
party, as when the voracious larvse of insects 
which, after their metamorphosis, live only 
on honey, destroy the innumerable hosts of 
aphides, which otherwise, from their enor- 
mous fertility would exterminate all vege- 
tation. An excess of the caterpillars of butter- 
flies is destroyed by hymenopterous insects ; 
moreover plants are able to protect them- 
selves from complete destruction. Nevertheless 
this never-resting struggle of all against all, 
would soon create desolation, if Nature was 
not so exceedingly fruitful that without such 
a struggle nearly every creature would very 
soon overrun the whole world : — 

" All these, increasing by successive birth, 
Would each o'erpeople ocean, air, and earth." 

Here is the great question put. What is the 
meaning for Nature, of this incessant struggle 
in Nature ? For a moment we may perhaj^s 
expect to get the solution of this mystery of 
Nature from the poet who liad come so near 
to it, but it is only a presentiment of the truth, 
not the truth itself. Thus he says that the 



206 LIFE OF 

incessant struggle serves to increase the sum 
of the "happiness of the survivors : — 

" Thus tlie tall moimtams, that enclose the lands. 
Huge isles of rock, and continents of sands, 
Whose dim extent eludes the inquiring sight, 
Abe mighty monuments of past Delight; 
Shout round the globe, how Eeproduction strives 
With vanquish'd Death, — and Happiness sukvives; 
How life increasing peoples every clime. 
And young renascent Nature conquers Time ; 

And high in golden characters record 

The immense munificence of Natuee's Lord." 

(Canto iv. 1. 447-456.) 

By the increased happiness v^hich arises from 
the death of those which fall in the struggle, 
the author, however, chiefly understands that 
fresh life blooms from dull age, and that, as 
both the number and the size of living animals 
increase with the decrease of the water, the 
sum of enjoyment of life must also increase, 
until the earth is once more reduced to its 
elements, in order, through chaos, to com- 
mence a new cycle.* The principle of the 
reconversion of the world into chaos, also 
supported by modern physics, is laid down by 
the author in his ' Botanic Grarden ' with 

* * Temple of Nature,' p. 166 note. 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 207 

such force that I cannot refrain from giving 
this passage as a final example of his poetical 
power : — 

" Roll on, ye Stars ! exult in youthful prime, 

Mark with bright curves the printless steps of time ; 
Near and more near your beamy cars approach. 
And lessening orbs on lessening orbs encroach ; 
Flowers of the sky ! ye too to age must yield. 
Frail as your silken sisters of the field ! 
Star after star from Heaven's high arch shall rush. 
Suns sink on Suns, and systems systems crush, 
Headlong, extinct, to one dark centre fall, 
And Death, and Night, and Chaos mingle all ! 

Till o'er the wreck, emerging from the storm. 

Immortal Nature lifts her changeful form, 
Mounts from her funeral pyre on wings of flame, 
And soars and shines, another and the same." 

In his ' Phytologia ' (xix. 7) the author 
has treated still more in detail the question 
of the struggle for existence, and the sum of 
happiness originating therefrom, and he indi- 
cates in the note last cited that the faculty of 
higher enjoyment increases with the height of 
organization of the creatures. He had not 
indeed solved the question, but his remarks 
upon it have directed the eyes of many of 
his readers to the struggle for existence, and 
in this we may perhaps find the explanation 
of the remarkable fact that so many English 



208 LIFE OF 

naturalists (Wells, Matthew, Charles Darwin, 
Wallace, &c.) have one after the other set up 
the principle of natural selection. This shows 
the power of the poet to excite the fancy even 
of others ; and a happy fate has arranged that 
the true heir has obtained the greatest benefit 
from the bequest. 

The ' Temple of Nature ' contributed greatly 
to enhance Darwin's poetical fame, for the 
representation is more rounded, and less over- 
grown with allegorical comparisons, than in 
his first didactic poems. But how little the 
philosophy expressed in it satisfied the readers 
of that time may be seen from a criticism 
which was given of the poem in the * Edin- 
burgh Review' (vol. ii. 1803, pp. 491-506). 
In it occurs (p. 501) the following remark, 
which is interesting in two ways : — " If his 
" fam{'< be destined in anything to outlive 
" the fluctuating fashion of the day, it is on 
" his merit as a poet that it is likely to rest ; 
*' and his reveries in science have probably 
" no other chance of being saved from 
" oblivion, but by having been ' married to 
" immortal verse.' " 

This full recognition of the author's poetical 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 209 

merits contrasts curiously enough with the 
sharp judgment of a later critic,* who, I am 
afraid, has criticized himself in it. " Nothing 
" in them," he says of the verses, " is done in 
" passion and power ; but all by filing, and 
" scraping, and rubbing, and other pains- 
" taking. Every line is as elaborately 
'' polished and sharpened as a lancet ; and 
" the most ejBfective paragraphs have the air 
" of a lot of those bright little instruments 
** arranged in rows, with their blades out, for 
" sale. You feel as if so thick an array of 
" points and edges demanded careful handling, 
" and that your fingers are scarcely safe in 
" coming near them." We see at once that 
the critic cannot forgive the poet for having 
been a doctor ; regards thought as a me- 
chanical process, and j^o^try as mechanical 
work, a higher kind ol " pin-making." After 
the critic has thus shot his arrows, however, 
he is obliged to admit that in spite of all a 
true poetical fire lives in these didactic poems 
and frequently breaks forth. **No writer," 

* George L. Craik. 'A Compendious History of English 
Literature, and of the English Language, from the Norman 
Conquest.' 2nd ed. vol. ii. pp. 382, 383. 8vo. London, 
1861 



210 LIFE OF 

sajs he, " has surpassed him in the luminous 
" representation of visible objects in verse ; 
" his descriptions have the distinctness of 
*' drawings by the pencil^ with the advantage 
" of conveying, by their harmonious words, 
" many things that no pencil can paint/' 

We will be more just, and say, that since 
the time of Lucretius, hardly any attempt to 
combine the opposing spheres of science and 
poetry in a didactic poem, and to put forth 
therein entire systems, has been so successful 
as in Darwin's works ; but such poems are 
rather dry in themselves, and will always find 
fewer admirers than poetical efforts of other 
kinds. Nevertheless even if the body of these 
poems should prove to be mortal, an immortal 
spirit lives in them, and it is this (to turn the 
words of the Edinburgh Reviewer the other 
way round) that will keep them above water 
for all time. 

Now, at the conclusion of our analysis, it 
may be as well to take a general view of the 
system established by Dr. Erasmus Darwin, 
in order to arrive at a clear perception of the 
advance for which the conception of the 
universe is indebted to him, and of the points 



ERASMUS DARWIN". 211 

in which he erred. And here we must in 
the first place admit that he was the first who 
proposed and consistently carried out, a well- 
rounded theory with regard to the development 
of the living tvorld, a merit which shines forth 
most briUiantly when we compare with it the 
vacillating and confused attempts of Buffon, 
Linnaeus and Gothe. It is the idea of a power 
working from within the organisms to im- 
prove their natural position ; and thus, out of 
the impulses of individual needs, to work to- 
wards the perfection of Nature as a whole. 

In contrast to the old theory that all adap- 
tation to purpose in the arrangements of the 
world was fore-calculated and fore-ordained, 
and that all organisms were merely wheels in 
a gigantic machine made once for all, and in- 
papable of improvement, this new view is so 
grand that it deserved a higher appreciation 
than it has ever met with. The Cartesio- 
Paleyan comparison of Nature with a great 
piece of clockwork (a fundamentally mistaken 
comparison, because every complete mechani- 
cal work has only been attained by many 
gradual improvements in the course of genera- 
tions), is finally got rid of by it. As regards 



212 LIFE OF 

the animal world, to wliich we must ascribe 
will and active efforts, the idea is so suitable, 
that Lamarck, who was evidently a disciple 
of Darwin, has worked it out in all directions, 
and thus originated a system which is not 
only still appreciated^ but is even now con- 
stantly being further elaborated, inasmuch as 
many naturalists of the present day, as has 
already been stated, ascribe to birds, for ex- 
ample, the faculty of enhancing' the beauty of 
their plumage by wishes and efforts, and so 
forth. This is true Darwinism of the last 
century — Darwinism of the old school. 

This Darwinism has been criticized by 
no one so well as by its author himself, 
when he applied it with strict logic to the 
development of plants. To be able to do this 
he was obliged to attribute mental functions 
to plants, and to endow them with the faculty 
of striving for a purpose. Even in the 
' Botanic Garden ' he therefore declared the 
necessity of admitting that plants possess the 
sense of heat and cold, of moisture and dry- 
ness, of light and darkness, a sense of touch, 
and amatory desires, besides the power of the 
roots to select suitable nourishment. For 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 213 

these reasons he also specially occupied him- 
self with the study of the so-called sensitive 
plants, and of insect-capturing plants, the 
most remarkable of which {Mimosa, Hedy- 
sarum gyrans, Dioncea muscipula, Apocynum 
androsoemifolium) he had figured on fine 
quarto plates to illustrate the ' Botanic 
G-arden.' 

In the ' Zoonomia ' he repeated these views ; 
and in the first part of the ' Phytologia,' which 
treats of the physiology of plants, he is much 
occupied with the search for vegetable organs 
representing the organs of sense^ nerves, and 
ganglia, of animals. Nay, he even thought 
that an organ analogous to the central 
nervous apparatus of animals, a vegetable 
brain, could not be wanting ; and as he rightly 
compared the composite vegetable body to a 
coral-stock, he was obliged to ascribe such 
an organ to each individual bud. For as he 
ascribed to them (and according to his theory 
was compelled to ascribe to them)_,. besides 
the power of nourishing and propagating 
themselves, also that of endeavouring to im- 
prove their position in life in accordance with 
external conditions, he logically concluded 

10 



214 LIFE OF 

that lie mtist for this purpose postulate an 
organ of self-help, a sensorium. 

In order to penetrate more clearly into the 
course of his ideas upon this point, I may be 
allowed to quote, in part, a passage from the 
* Phytologia ' (Sect. xiv. 3^ 2), and the rather 
because it at the same time fills a gap pur- 
posely left in the exposition of his philoso- 
phical system. 

" There appears," he says, '* to be a power 
'* impressed on organized bodies by the great 
" author of all things by which they not only 
" increase in size and strength from their 
" embryon state to their maturity, and oc- 
" casionally cure their accidental diseases, and 
" repair their accidental injuries, but also a 
^^ power of producing armour to prevent those 
*' more violent injuries, which would other- 
" wise destroy them. Of this last kind are 
*' the poisonous juices of some plants, as of 
*^ atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, hy- 
" oscyamus, hen-bane, cyjioglossum, hound's 

*' tongue Some vegetables have 

" acquired an armour, which lessens, though 
*'' it does not totally prevent, the injuries of 
" this animal [the aphis]. This is most con- 



ERASMUS DARWIN. 215 

spicuous on the stems and floral leaves of 
moss-roses, and on the young shoots and 
leaf-stalks of nnt trees. Both these are 
covered with thickset bristles, which termi- 
nate in globular heads, and not only prevent 
the aphis from surrounding them in such 
great numbers, and from piercing their 
vessels so easily, but also secrete from the 
gland, with which I suspect them to be 
terminated, a juice, which is inconvenient or 
deleterious to the insect which touches it.* 
. . . The essential oils are all deleterious to 
certain insects, and hence their use in the 
vegetable economy, being produced in 
flowers or leaves to protect them from the 
depredations of their voracious enemies." 
I do not think I am deceiving myself in 
saying that this merely logical extension of 
his theory to the vegetable kingdom has 
robbed it of the efficacy which it might have 
attained if limited to the animal kingdom. 
The small amount of interest excited by the 
attempts, both of the elder Darwin and of 

* Corresponding observations upon glandular hairs which, by 
their sticky exudations, protect young shoots of plants from the 
attacks of insects, have lately been made by Mr. Francis Darwin 
and by Dr. Fritz Miiller. See ' Kosmos,' Bd. i. p. 354. 



216 LIFE OF ERASMUS DARWIN. 

Lamarck, at the solution of the world-enigma, 
shows us that thej were not adapted to satisfy 
men's minds. They explain the adaptation 
to purpose of organisms by an obscure im- 
pulse or sense of what is purpose-like ; and 
yet even with regard to man we are in the 
habit of saying, that one can never know 
what so and so is good for. The purpose-like 
is that which approves itself^ and not always 
that which is struggled for by obscure impulses 
and desires. Just in the same way the beauti- 
ful is what pleases. 

Erasmus Darwin's system was in itself a 
most significant first ste]D in the path of know- 
ledge which his grandson has opened up for 
us, but to wish to revive it at the jDi^esent 
day, as has actually been seriously attempted^ 
shows a weakness of thought and a mental 
anachronism which no one can envy. 



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